NeoSky India Ltd, a subsidiary of RattanIndia Enterprises Limited is leading the way in drone industry in India with its 360° Drone-as-a-Product and Drone-as-a-Services portfolio. With a series of product launches in past two months, NeoSky has big plans to emerge as a leading drone manufacturer and exporter.
Sarath Chandra Gudlavalleti, Chief Executive Officer, NeoSky India in an engaging interaction with Editor, Raksha Anirveda talked at length about the drone industry and NeoSky’s future plans. Edited excerpts:
Q. NeoSky is a late entrant into the drone market. Already a crowded market, how NeoSky is going to carve its niche position and establish itself as a leader?
A: The momentum for the industry is picking up fast. It is no more an industry which made people think it is picking up, but it is already growing today. This obviously is the Sunrise industry and in the last year or two, there are many things that have caught on and this is not just hearsay or somebody predicting the future, but concrete actions. If you look at it, it started with the support from the government coming out with liberalised drone rules in 2021. So, that is one of the biggest milestones and slowly from here on, bold measures should be taken so that it gives a momentum to the Indian startup ecosystem.
The new budget has good support for the drones, for manufacturers and component manufacturers. So, the ecosystem is budding, and regulations are coming into force. There is good momentum for the overall industry. New entrants are coming into every industry at every stage as the industry evolves and if you see that has been the trend in technology as well.
So the matter is more about when you get ill, what exactly you want to do. We believe this is the right time and Neosky’s ambition is to be the leading drone manufacturer in the country and we have our interest in two or three areas.
In the consumer drone segment, there are many existing brands. India is a young, and adaptable country, the population is supportive of whatever is happening in the industry. At least in the last decade or two whether it is smart phone or 4G and now 5G, it is how people have accepted the usage of OTT or APP carried systems on phones which they are purchasing through digital medium.
Each of these revolutions happened because this is a country which is vibrant and given the background and demography of the country, we believe that consumer drones are a great opportunity. Then, if you look at commercial drones, we have taken a majority stake and acquired this company called Throttle Aerospace Systems (TAS) which is a Bengaluru based drone company, started in 2016 by someone who had worked in Boeing and that has built a bit of credentials.
We have drones for multiple usages like land mapping, infrastructure, surveillance, logistics, and agriculture. With Throttle being part of NeoSky, we already have seven to eight years’ experience. We are testing and we plan to make drones for Ministry of Defence. With anti-drones coming in, the market is just opening up and we obviously are also looking at drone services and that really is what we intend to do.
Q. India aims to be a global drone hub and a leading exporter. In your opinion, how well India is positioned to achieve this in a decade or earlier?
A: The time is right and all these changes that we have spoken about are all steppingstones and foundational. Now somebody has to build on top of it. So, the good part is, lot of things have changed. Unlike what it was 20 or 30 years back or even a decade back, when making a product in India was not very common? One of the big changes is how the software industry has evolved and opened the doors. Across the world, Indian software companies are providing products to every small country, and they have pretty much conquered the West and even if you go to those markets, you will see an Indian working there.
So that has opened doors to every other industry and shown that there is no sector we cannot work in. Over the last years we have seen more and more development in the electronic space. The drones are building up all over the globe, but the next decade is potential and if we try to grab the opportunity today, the industry will start looking up to India. And once you start handling bigger problems, there is no reason why you will not be able to straddle the globe. Surveillance is there and so why not have surveillance across the globe. Time is ripe and there are players in the industry.
Q. What are the key factors that’s driving Indian drone industry? What’s your outlook for the industry?
A: There are multiple factors but first and foremost is that what happened in the last year or two. Lot of innovations have happened over a decade or more, but the real momentum started in 2021 with support coming in from the government. The number one point in my view would be the supportive policies.
The PSUs and other segments including state governments picked it up and now we see drones being used commonly for multiple purposes.
Over the last year or so, the private industry started opening up their doors. What started with the government has not remained with the government. Today there are lot of players in oil and gas, infrastructure and warehousing, in security services and lot of these players are looking at opportunities for using drones. Many of these are testing and other impetus is coming in the form of investment. For any new industry to grow it needs investment and good to see that it is flowing in across the industry and that is helping more in innovation, R&D, manufacturing across industry and it is a very important lever.
About manpower itself, it is because of this that this country is a manufacturing hub because they have a skilled workforce.
India is software hub because we have the talent and adequate engineering colleges. Our students and youngsters are a bunch of educated people who can speak English. The whole eco-system of people is very important to build this whole network and that is picking up as well.
It is very interesting to see how people from different industries are moving into drone industry as it is a sunrise industry and looks promising, and they can bring their experience into it. That is a positive trend which we are seeing.
Defence is an important area and because of modernisation of the Indian Armed Forces and developments across the spectrum and areas under the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs and how they are modernising including unmanned aircraft. It is happening on the surface right now. It is a start of what is likely to happen in the future and these are the big trends that are happening.
Q. The drone industry has evolved fast and has found relevance across the various industry segments. Will the military application be a key driver for the future growth of Indian drone industry? How NeoSky is going to tap the defence segment after the launch of its first offering? What new products are in the pipeline?
A: Every segment has its own problems to be solved. When we look at business, we need to understand what the problem is and how drones can solve it. If the market fit is there, we can always scale up. But, if it is not there, then you are probably up the wrong scale.
Beyond defence, there are multiple other opportunities like agriculture and petroleum. Similarly, land mapping is already a big one.
Coming to defence, the trend is massive modernisation and that is the need of the hour, and it has been talked about for a very long time now. A lot of measures are being taken across the entire spectrum of modernising the Indian armed forces and drones play a very important and pivotal role as part of that strategy. All the hard work by the industry and the ministry has been done. So, we now see people coming out with specifically what has already been done. Some of the specifications that have come in, are the products that we already have whether it is the current surveillance which is called TACT.
We launched a new product about a month ago called NIMBLE which is low end and one of the most affordable surveillance products in the market and this is an important requirement by the armed forces. The armed forces also have requirement of logistics. They want payloads to be picked up and moved from the base to the forward posts. So, we already have a different version of a Metcopter which can pick up payloads in some of the most critical areas and that is also something that we are working on.
On top of it, we entered into anti-drone segment which is relatively new. We launched it about a month or two back and we witnessed good interest coming in from multiple stakeholders. In fact we are working very closely with all of them. We are looking at the specific requirements each of them have because of the terrain and the kind of challenges they face or likely to face in the future. We are working on them and we are taking them through demos. So as the market opens up, we intend to go deeper and innovate for the need of the armed forces.
Today we have three products. One is the surveillance. The second is logistics with multiple variants of that product and an anti-drone.
We have huge borders so one can imagine the opportunities we have for anti-drone operations. It is humongous, be it surveillance or logistics. We look at how we can deliver different products for them. What is their problem, need and how we can resolve it and that is the core of our work. We try to serve the armed forces and the nation as best as we can.
Q. NeoSky aims to be a full-line player meaning you’ll cover all – enterprise, consumer, defence and drone as a service segments. Are you going to focus on each of these step by step or in a single go? Kindly provide a detailed account.
A: We launched NeoSky in September and demonstrated it in October. We are now working on the feedback received and the moment we have something interesting, we will let you know.
Q: Military drones have taken the centre stage in the last few years. And here, there is a wide technology and capability gap between Indian drones and the drones being offered by global players. Is NeoSky planning to play a pivotal role in closing this gap and how?
A: We are looking at each of these opportunities and building on each of their capabilities. Each of these areas, we have done the groundwork and we have given indication of work happening in the background. So, you would see us execute what we have said.
Q: There is a gap in defence technology in India and global and how do you intend to fill this gap?
A: What would be important is the relevance of what is there. For our customers for instance, in a PSU or someone doing a land survey, what would matter to them is the quality of survey. So it is to do with the software, camera, which is to do with how many hours and minutes the drone flight should be and how long it can be in the air. So, it is much customised for Indian needs. There is opportunity right now and there is no reason why it cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. So, similarly if we look at our defence needs or some of the wars that are happening, there is massive difference in terms of terrain, difference in type of environment in which the drone would be operated.
So, customers in India would look at what is more relevant for them, catering to their needs and solving their problems, along with the availability of the product. So, it is not very easy, and lot of customisations would be needed and that is where we are focussed on. Our aim is to build that in India. Our idea is to Make in India and be Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) and we would stay focussed on that.
Q: In five years’ time many more companies and startups would be emerging on the scene and even big players like Adani Group and Mukesh Ambani Group are venturing into drone sector. So how do you view this competition and where do you see yourself in this scenario?
A: Competition is good for all of us as it would keep everybody on their toes. Drone is an evolving industry with high growth potential and it is good to see more players coming in. We are a well-established company and in the next decade or so we would emerge as one of the biggest players in this sector.
Q: How do you view the global market in the drone industry and your status in that?
A: We see immense export potential for all our drones. The Indian market too has lot of similarities with other parts of the world like Middle East, South East Asia and we are looking at these markets.