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“It’s the period of technological revolution in the mapping industry”

Aero360 team - UAV and Drones start-up in India
(From left to right) R Lakshmi Narayanan Co-Founder & CTO, A Pragadish Santosh Co-Founder & CEO and S.Nijandan Co-Founder & CMO

In conversation with Geospatial World, Pragadish Santhosh, CEO and Co-founder, Aero360 and his team shares their views on the UAV market.

Geospatial World (GW): You have been in the business since last two years, how has the market changed over the time?

The market is growing at a rapid pace when compared to with what it was two years’ ago. New players are coming in, big players are acquiring UAV companies, services are expanding, various sensors are being added every day, researchers are working to improve the technology, government is planning to form regulations to allow UAVs in the national airspace, and more importantly, most of them are recognising the applications and advantages of UAVs. It is a period of technology revolution for the mapping industry.

GW: With what aim did you start the company? Was indigenisation of UAVs and drones one of the main aims? How has the journey been?
All our products are indigenous except sensors, and we are focused at providing the best solution to the clients. The aim is to build the most intelligent personal drone for businesses that helps collect data at a high resolution whenever and wherever required. We want to offer clients the ability to collect, process, store and analyse data and make them more efficient and profitable. The journey has been quite interesting — and at the same time challenging too. Challenging because as we were building a highly technical product with a high level intelligence incorporated into it for the industry, we made a lot of mistakes. The average age of our team member is 25, and thus, it was a learning experience for us to build a highly intelligent product that would serve the geospatial industry experts. While almost everyone had heard about UAVs, only few had used them. Therefore, making them understand the technology was easy but making them believe was really tough.

GW: Since you recently started the operations, has the growth trajectory been satisfactory?
We started our services only this year. We invested the first three to four years on research, development and in making the product. Now, since the product is ready, we are offering it as a service through our imagery on-demand programme. We have been successful in getting few clients already on board. They are very satisfied with our product as well as the imagery. We hope to grow as fast as we can as there is a need and we hope to match their expectations.

GW: What are the current challenges you are facing in your business?
The biggest challenge that we are facing today is the regulation by the DGCA. In addition, making clients better understand our products, enlightening them about how to integrate our solutions into their existing workflows, etc are other challenges.

Our UAVs are designed to operate in the safest way possible, so that it does not endanger others privacy or property. Clients usually don’t believe us in the first meeting itself, since we are start-up comprising of a very young team. They would be very confused till they see our imagery products. As we expand, we are sure we would be able to overcome these challenges.

GW: You have been planning to expand you team. Do you feel there are good resources available in the market that suit your requirements?
Even though we are a start-up, we see a lot of interest from experienced candidates from their respective fields. The resources are ample but selecting the right talent who fits in a start-up culture is quite challenging. We are more focused in expanding as quick as we can, as we need to explore a lot in this field which is still remain unexplored and unanswered.

GW: Who are your key clients? Can you brief about the opportunities that you see in various sectors in India?

Our target verticals are agriculture, mining, infrastructure and disaster management. We can provide continuous monitoring, 3D model generation, volumetric analysis, DTM, DEM, topo maps, etc. Our platform is compatible with different sensors such as visual, LiDAR, multispectral and hyperspectral.

Agricultural market is very sophisticated and still not well served with the data. The need for on-demand data, stock pile calculation, change detection, volumetric analysis and resource management still remain unanswered with the quality of data currently available. These are crucial for mining and infrastructure companies. We can help them cut their costs and increase the efficiency and productivity.

We are currently providing on-demand imagery services and soon plan to sell drones. Clients can use our drones to collect data themselves instead of relying on satellite imagery. We can see there is a huge opportunity for us as imagery is being used by many businesses across the country for various applications. We are targeting the clients who are in need of updated high quality, high resolution maps/data. We can provide 2.5cm per pixel ground resolution. We can offer high-res Imagery on a near-real time basis which will help clients getting quality data from our imagery.

GW: ‘Make in India’ has been the buzzword lately. Do you feel the business environment conducive enough for adopting indigenous manufacturing programme in India? What are the roadblocks you foresee?

Our product is completely made in-house. We use the best available resources and build the product from the scratch without compromising on the quality. The product is designed to have an increased lifecycle and reduced lifecycle costs, as this is one of the main issues with the existing UAVs in the market. This is what is needed through Make in India theme, too. We soon hope our product would be highly competitive and a game-changer in the global market.

We too have some obstacles in our way and those are — taking the technology to the market, cost incurred in manufacturing, high precision sensors, and investment in R&D. We have sought support and cooperation from industry leaders, in terms of technology, market support and even investments, to take this technology globally.