New Delhi: The signing of an agreement between Chennai-based drone start-up Garuda Aerospace and US aerospace company Lockheed Martin CDL Systems will see the Indian firm use one of Lockheed’s advanced autopilot and tracking software for defence and commercial drones.
The two companies also plan to work together to develop algorithms for drone applications in agriculture, mining, large-scale mapping, and industrial inspection.
This deal is one among a growing number of examples of Indian drone start-ups testing international waters. The relationships go both ways, according to industry experts. While global firms want to partner with Indian drone makers to get a piece of a burgeoning market in India, Indian start-ups want to test international waters through these deals.
Garuda, for instance, is also working with Harare Institute of Technology and Nyangani Virtual University to offer drones-as-a-service to the farming industry in Zimbabwe.
Likewise, another Indian drone service provider Skye Air Mobility said it is eying expansion into new markets like UAE and Saudi Arabia. “We are working out software-related partnerships in the region. These partnerships will help us take our India-made products and services to global destinations,” said Ankit Kumar, chief executive of Skye Air Mobility.
While Skye Air is a comparatively newer entrant in India’s drone market, early drone solutions provider Skylark Drones said it has been supplying software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to global firms for a while now. However, Mughilan Ramasamy, who co-founded the firm back in 2014, said there’s been a massive increase in interest.
Although 80% of Skylark’s customer base is in India today, Ramasamy said the firm wants to have an equal split between global and Indian customers in the next two years.
Further, IdeaForge, which is a manufacturer and supplier of drones, said as part of its North American expansion plans the company is talking to several distributors and resellers to help take their products overseas. It is also looking for technology partners.
“This will further help in making Indian products more tuned to international customers and help them with quicker turnaround time (TAT) for after sales support,” a spokesperson from the company said.
While industry experts acknowledge that the Indian drone industry is at a nascent stage, they said that it has created a lot of interest globally. They attributed this interest to the government’s new drone policy that was unveiled last year, an emphasis on local manufacturing, and encouragement for drones-as-a-service in critical sectors like farming, healthcare, logistics, defence, and e-commerce.
“What is interesting is that opportunities for partnerships that can lead to access to new markets are happening a lot more. One of the reasons can be that companies want an alternative to China to procure drones. The opportunity in India is more on the industrial side which has its nuances such as what payload it can carry or how high can you go. Different use cases have different requirements,” said Vishesh Rajaram, founder and managing partner, early-stage venture capital firm Speciale Invest.
He warned, however, that partnerships alone won’t give Indian firms credibility. “If you can mine that relationship for more revenue or for distribution that can help. Most investors are looking at revenue and scale. Also, we are looking for a drone application that can solve a problem,” he said.
Further, Smit Shah, president of industry body Drone Federation of India (DFI), pointed out that the cost of ownership of drones is coming down with increasing scale. For instance, the government Swamitva Scheme is expected to use 3000-4000 drones, according to Shah. Under the scheme, the government plans to map land parcels by using drones, in an effort to establish clear ownership of property in rural inhabited areas. Drones surveys of 1,94,356 have already been completed, according to the government’s website on the scheme.
“There is a requirement for multiple drones under emergency procurement in the defence sector. Surveillance and logistics drones are being procured, and this is being seen as an opportunity. Positive indigenization is also attracting a lot of companies to partner with Indian companies, do technology transfer, and share intellectual property,” said Smit Shah.
Vipul Singh, co-founder, and chief executive of Aereo (formerly known as Aarav Unmanned Systems), said that expectations from the sector are also rising on the back of an increasing reliance on drones, which leads to a requirement for “rapid innovation and upgradation of products and processes”. Aereo, too, is in active discussions with enterprises in India and overseas to expand its business.