Drones World Magazine Interview
Q1. What was your key objective behind starting Asteria Aerospace?
Ans. When we started Asteria over a decade ago, our main objective was to use our experience and knowledge in the aerospace sector, apply it towards developing a nascent drone industry, and in the process reduce India’s foreign dependence in a core engineering field. The defence market was the largest market for drones at that time and hence we set our sights to design, develop, and manufacture high-performance, rugged, and reliable drones for military and paramilitary end users.
Over the years, we have transitioned from being just a drone hardware manufacturing company to a complete drone solutions provider with expertise in drone hardware, software, and analytics. Today, we service multiple government and enterprise customers across sectors – defence & homeland security, oil & gas, GIS, critical infrastructure, agriculture - with drone solutions that transform aerial data into actionable insights.
Q2. Please brief us about the products/services/solutions you provide to your customers and how do they get value out of it?
Ans. Asteria Aerospace is a full-stack drone technology company developing and deploying drone solutions for enterprises from different sectors as well as for government agencies. We design and manufacture multiple drone platforms ranging from 2 kg to 25 kg all-up weight that are easy-to-use, rugged, and performance driven. These drones can be used in several applications, such as security & surveillance, land surveys, agricultural surveys as well as inspection of critical assets like pipelines, powerlines, and telecom towers. Our drones improve operational efficiency, ensure worker safety, and significantly cut the time between data gathering and decision-making.
Asteria also provides end-to-end Drone-as-a-Service solutions supported by our in-house drone operations cloud platform, SkyDeck. SkyDeck helps in seamlessly managing the planning & execution of drone flights, data processing, visualization, and analytics to provide business insights from drone data. Our solutions provide near real-time AI-based analysis of drone data which can be used to make better and faster decisions and optimize operations.
Q3. What is your biggest USP that differentiates the company from competitors?
Ans. Asteria is vertically integrated in hardware design & manufacturing, software platform development, and providing drone services at scale. This integration allows us to develop and deploy deeply customized solutions for our customers and provides them with a one-stop partner for all their aerial data needs.
Asteria is also first drone manufacturer in India with 3 DGCA type certified drones – 2 under the small category and 1 under micro category. We have a growing team of more than 300 people and are one of the few companies in India that can manufacture and deliver hundreds of drones per year. Our focus on customer needs, long term solutions, and our scale differentiates us from competitors.
Q4. Mention some of the awards, achievements, recognitions, and client’s feedback that you feel are notable and valuable for the company?
Ans. Over the years, we have received several awards for our contribution to the drone industry. Recently, we received FICCI’s award for Geospatial Excellence in Business Application. This award is testimony to our commitment to solve business problems using our drone expertise. We are also one of the only companies to have multiple drones with DGCA type certification. Type certification makes our drones fully compliant with the safety and quality standards laid down in the Drone Rules, 2021 for operations in the Indian airspace. It demonstrates that our drones have passed the strict quality assurance requirements laid down by the DGCA for designing and manufacturing drones.
Q5. How have you seen the evolution of the industry? As you said that you have been here from the beginning, how has the growth been?
Ans. The drone industry has seen explosive growth in the last couple of years. However, things were a lot different ten years ago. The use of drones in the civil airspace was banned from 2014 - 2018. Only defence and government users were operating drones at that time and the market was limited. In 2018, DGCA introduced the first regulations for the use of drones in civil airspace. This opened up opportunities for the use of drones for a variety of applications. However, the industry was heavily overregulated and didn’t really take off until 2021 when the liberalized Drone Rules were introduced. This kicked off a period of high growth for the Indian drone industry. Due to attractive government policies, some of the biggest venture capitalists and corporates have shown interest in investing in the drone industry. As per a research report released by Tracxn, the Indian drone industry raised $39.1 million of equity funding last year, which is more than double the funding compared to 2021. We are hopeful that the government will continue to support the drone industry and come up with progressive additions in the rules to achieve our combined vision of making India a global drone hub by 2030.
Q6. What are the biggest challenges for drone manufacturing companies in India and what Asteria is doing to overcome these challenges?
Ans. In India, we have many companies manufacturing drones for a variety of applications, but we still have a dearth of component manufacturing companies. Electronic chips, batteries, motors, and other such components used in manufacturing drones are still being imported from outside of India. This is one of the biggest challenge for drone manufacturing companies. Considering the global supply chain constraints and geopolitical climate, we need to ensure that we have a robust component manufacturing ecosystem in India, which can make components not only for the Indian drone manufacturers but for global manufacturers as well. This can be solved over time by incentivizing local component manufacturers to scale their production, leveraging capabilities in allied industries like EV, and creating drone manufacturing and testing clusters which can encourage entrepreneurship and close partnerships in this space.
The PLI scheme and other such initiatives launched by the government in the last couple of years have had a huge impact on the component manufacturing industry. There has been a significant increase in the number of component manufacturers in India, and it is expected that this number will continue to grow in the future. At our end, we ensure that we support and promote such companies by collaborating with them for component development, testing, and sourcing.
Q7. What are some of the new and emerging areas of potential growth in the drone industry?
Ans. While drone technology evolved to primarily serve military forces, today it finds uses in sectors as diverse as agriculture, oil & gas, mining, telecom, and healthcare – to improve operational efficiency, safety, and cost. For example, Kisan drones are being used for effective spraying of pesticides and nutrients over farms, thereby reducing time, improving efficiency, and enhancing safety. Drones with advanced sensors are also being used in digitizing farms for crop health analysis, land usage planning, transparent & quick settlement of insurance claims, and other areas.
Drones are also being used to digitize and inspect critical infrastructure spread across the country, such as telecom towers, oil & gas pipelines, and heavy industry facilities for preventive maintenance, audit, and optimization purposes. One of the innovative use of drones is for the faster transport of critical items such as medicines, vaccines, blood samples, and other healthcare items. In hilly and mountainous areas, drones can cut the transport time of these items by as much as 5-6 times compared to road transport, with the potential to save human lives. Over time, logistics drones carrying cargo and people can be an area of high potential growth. Drones World Magazine