The Indian Drone Ecosystem: How Aereo is empowering rural India and Boosting the Economy
CXOToday has engaged in an exclusive interview with Vipul Singh, CEO, and Co-founder, of Aereo
- How has the drone industry in India evolved in the last decade? And what lies ahead for Aereo in 2023?
The drone ecosystem has emerged as one of the fastest growing industries in India. A decade ago, survey drones and their commercial applications were considered experimental and a risky bet. However, with repetitive proof of concepts, discussions, consistent R&D, and innovation, we have managed to carve out a niche industry.
Somewhere around 2018, the adoption of drones for commercial applications began to take off. Some government and private companies began using drones and realized their benefits. However, this was followed by some policy changes which led to restrictions and bans in the industry due to threat perceptions. But soon, in 2021, the government and private sectors underwent a paradigm shift, which lead to the newer and liberalized drone rules and national geospatial policy. That opened a lot of doors for indigenous drone companies.
Aereo has been growing steadily as well. Our solutions have a large presence in mining, infrastructure, urban and rural development, forest conservation, inspection, etc. We provide business intelligence powered by innovative drone technology that impacts the productivity of organizations, lives of people, and leaves a sustainable impact on the planet. Aereo’s roadmap is to further diversify its industrial applications and expand to multiple global territories. Presently, we are pursuing our next round of funding that will help us pursue our vision at an accelerated pace.
- I came across a WEF report, which stated that drones can boost India’s GDP by $100bn and create 5 lakh jobs. What are your views on it? Do you think such a staggering growth is attainable?
Such a boost is certainly possible however, the industry growth must be vertical specific and even more spread out. This will stem from innovation and IP creation. Only when there is rapid and large-scale investment in R&D of our technology, there will be a surge of growth in India’s drone industry and hence, our GDP.
Other areas that could make this a reality are the emergence of complimentary enterprises. Focusing just on a singular industry can hamper this progress. Creating lakhs of job requires a synchronization between complimentary industries. From manufacturing to analytics, there also needs to be a global outlook. A hyper-growth is not possible if we restrict ourselves to the domestic market.
- How much of a role have drones played in digitizing land records in the country? And is this part of a strategy to spark financial development in rural India?
Drones are immensely valuable for digitizing land records. They are replacing conventional and slower methods of survey and data collection. A single drone can cover 1000+ hectares in a single flight. Accumulating such high quality and accurate data at a significantly higher speed and less cost has not been possible before. Firstly, this has a direct impact on the employment opportunities in these areas. To survey the varied demographic areas in India requires many skilled drone pilots. Secondly, processing the aerial data will help create globally accurate digital records of properties. These records will enable farmers and their families to receive financial services from banks, settle property disputes and increase their overall asset value.
Additionally, digital land records will help authorities design efficient water pipeline networks, electricity connections, road infrastructure, and more. With town planning and rural development, industries will also gravitate toward this largely untapped population. As you can see, digitizing land records using drones will have a ripple effect on the financial development of rural India.
- How is Aereo playing a major role in empowering farmers and modernizing their lives?
Aereo is directly impacting the lives of tens of millions of Indians. We have mapped over 42,000 villages under the SVAMITVA scheme of GoI, a cumulative land area of 15+ million acres, and continue to aid the government in several rural development initiatives. This will help farmers receive property cards from the government that will unlock a plethora of financial opportunities for them. From better subsidies, solar installations, to loans, and several other macro benefits. The aerial data collected by Aereo will also help build a climate resilient agriculture industry in India. To tackle climate change and prevent phenomena such as topsoil erosion and low crop yield, using aerial data to reduce climate dependency and improve irrigation is the key.
- How far has the SVAMITVA scheme come so far? What has been your progress?
We have progressed rapidly in the SVAMITVA scheme in the last 3 years. Aereo has mapped over 42,000 villages in 6 states that include Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Haryana.
- India is now home to over 200 drone startups. What sets you apart from the competitors?
Aereo has created a niche segment in the drone industry that has helped us become an industry leader. We provide end-to-end drone solutions along with actionable insights. Most importantly, we have built several IPs over the past decade and filed over 15 patents. This has helped us have tight control over our technology and processes. Our specific hardware, data analytics tools and a robust cloud platform have uniquely positioned us in the market, compared to our competitors.
- What were some of the challenges that you faced while mapping the entire country? And how are you working around the problems that exist within the industry?
There are several difficulties and problems that exist in the current process. Firstly, there is a lack of unified standards. Whether it’s standards for data quality or the finished maps. Without proper standards that are implemented by the government across the country, there will always be a large variety of demand and supply. It will be up to the customer to set quality benchmarks instead of the authorities. This leaves a lot of room for error and makes the entire process quite chaotic.
Another shortcoming is the lack of process in our emerging industry. The industry, at its current state, is unstructured. The lack of awareness in the public about this industry has led to low skillset in the aerospace segment, more specifically in drones. It is of paramount importance that we upskill and educate people about the drone industry as it is a highly lucrative industry with extreme career potential.
Aereo has built a proprietary cloud platform that aims to bring unified standards in the country and create a central repository of GIS data. By removing hardware and software limitations, we’ve made it easier to share and access data.
Additionally, Aereo has partnered with SJCIT in Chikkaballapur, Karnataka to open India’s first holistic drone technology education Centre of Excellence. Here, we will train students to become certified drone pilots, drone technicians, GIS analysts, and learn more about the industry from experts. Through this, we want to enable the youth to discover the value this industry can provide and help them upskill to forge a career in it.