The drone industry is buzzing with activity after the government took steps to legalise drones in India, but commercial drones are not yet permitted. The government is formulating the second version or 2.0 regulations that will make commercial drones legal.
Vipul Singh, vicepresident of Drone Federation of India and CEO of Aarav Unmanned Systems, in an interview with ABHIJEET ANAND gives an insight into the challenges and concerns of the drone industry.
Q: In what ways have the current regulations streamlined the drone industry?
A: There was a pressing issue on how to make people accountable. How do we make sure that drones don’t fly where there is no approval? There are security, safety and privacy concerns. The current regulations have defined the standards which a drone should meet and the ways to obtain permission with the minimum hassle possible. It is more a digitised way of taking single window permission.
I would say the industry is going through a transition phase. Every transition brings in a set of challenges for a particular period. Now there is a clear-cut idea how you can operate, where you can operate and where you cannot operate. It also provides a very organised way of doing business. It creates a threshold for you to develop a reliable product which is necessary, otherwise it will create issues for others.
Now you can define growth based on regulations. The only challenge is that it should be implemented properly on time and in the right manner. Otherwise it would be theoretically good but not practically good.
Q: What are the challenges before drone manufacturers at present?
A: There is no challenge as such. The industry was not organised. That was creating a problem for people who were doing a standard job. For example, if I make a well-engineered product but someone is not doing the job properly and creates some incident somewhere, the entire industry gets hampered.
Earlier people were doing anything, anywhere. That was also creating a high risk zone. Now those risk zones are reduced. But the change has brought a new set of challenges. There are some hurdles when it comes to implementation of the new policy. How do you really solve those hurdles?
Is everything working or not when it comes to different components of regulation? And knowledge building. Is everyone aware what is correct and what is not correct? Those are things which will take time. It presents the opportunity for users to have a vision of scaling drone uses.
Q: Are the government policies conducive and favourable for start-ups?
A: Theoretically, yes. It is more favourable for indigenous companies. At the current stage, the speed at which the implementation of this new policy is happening makes it a little difficult for start-ups. Start-ups are generally very, very sensitive to time.
If you don’t generate revenue on time, they tend to fail, because there is not enough cash to tolerate the losses. Many start-ups are early-stage funded by either family, friends or investors. Either way everyone has an interest to drive maximum returns from their investment. If there is less business, people don’t survive.
The investment does not come back. Apart from being favourable, it should be implemented in the right time and right manner.
Q: Are the drones manufactured in India totally indigenous?
A: There are a few companies which are doing significant amount of manufacturing in India. I won’t say every component is manufactured in India. There are a few things like the motors and batteries which are not at all manufactured in India. A start-up cannot take up the manufacturing because It requires a large infrastructure. That large infrastructure is sustainable only if you have good amount of business. There is not enough demand in the Indian market right now.
Q: Do you see the demand for drones growing after the second version of drone regulations kick in?
A: The second ver s ion of drone regulation which is in formulation right now talks about Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations. BVlos means use cases like logistics of delivering products from one point to another point; delivering emergency health supplies.
We are talking about drone taxis in the future. We are talking about drones being able to do large-scale work. Like mapping of villages and cities. We are talking about drones being able to spray pesticides over areas. Lot of big use cases are going to come up if we allow Bvlos ops.
So it will basically push the ecosystem to the next level. Some other use cases will emerge. A lot of new startups will come up.
Q: What are the concerns regarding commercial drones?
A: The concern is that it should not operate where it is not supposed to be, it should not be misused. There are three major concerns. First is security. No one would like a drone to create a security issue at an airport or an atomic facility where a single drone hitting critical infrastructure can create a problem for so many people and create a big loss.
The second concern is safety. So how do we make sure that while the commercial applications are for the greater good of people, they do not create havoc. It has to be reliable. It has to be designed in a manner that it should not fail while in operation. Third is privacy.
When I am capturing an image or video from a drone, I should not capture activity which is very personal in nature. Provisions are being made around this as to where you can operate and not operate. That I think will create a lot of boundaries in terms of what you can and cannot do.
Q: How many people are actually trained to fly drones?
A: Officially, they have talked about 30 training facilities. None of them are really operational in terms of providing the certification which the regulation talks of. Other than that there are lot of private training schools mushrooming which are teaching young graduates how to operate drones and giving them an opportunity to get into the skill-set of using a drone.
There are close to 30 to 35 such training schools. There is a huge lag in the right curriculum and the right way of training people. At the end of the day, it is not about the certification programme, it is about making them relevant for the industry either from the perspective of user or a solution provider. I think there is a lack of maturity at this moment. It happens with any market. Over a period of time, it will stabilise.