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Turning Drones into Intelligent System

Prateek Srivastava – Co-Founder and CEO – Terra Drone India

There has been a surge in demand for smarter technology everywhere in the world. That’s because people want better living and better performance. With technology taking over the digital wave, its adoption by the already existing workflows does not come as a surprise. The drone industry is no exception to this. Technological trends such as ​Internet of Things, ​Artificial Intelligence ​and ​Machine Learning are being used actively to achieve better results. Today, drones are equipped with features like collision avoidance, terrain following and target following, increasing their efficiency to a great extent. These technologies are making drones an intelligent system, which is capable of performing independently or with minimal supervision.

The geospatial industry is witnessing a major transformation as well. Apart from automated data processing, data analysis and quality enhancement, which were previously completely manual tasks, are today being automated to a great extent. For instance, at an agricultural survey for crop counting and crop recognition, AI and ML are used to meet the objectives by automating the process and reducing the man hours.

Wave of change

At TerraDrone India, we have espoused the Government of India’s ‘Digital India’ campaign, which is aimed at making the country digitally empowered. We believe in the ability of high-resolution mapping and the subsequent positive impact it brings to the society. However, lack of availability of up-to-date, reliable and accurate base maps has so far been one of the most critical headwinds faced by the industry.

A recent innovative effort in this field has been made by  the Survey of India (SoI).The national mapping agency’s plan to use professional grade drones for large scale mapping  and providing base maps for expeditious and integrated development is expected to open up the skies for the drone industry in India. This technology adoption by the government has brought about a positive wave of change in the drone and geospatial industries.

Focus across verticals

Focusing on the service industry, our subject matter experts have been working towards providing solutions across major verticals, including agriculture, mining, smart cities, forestry, utilities, energy, defence, tourism and education.One of the main products that TerraDrone India provides is ​Data as a Service (DaaS)​. So far, we have been able to complete ​UAV-based multi-sensor survey and data processing for more than 10,000 sqkm for about ​40 projects.

We have achieved data with ground sampling distance as low as ​2.9cm/ pixel ​and delivered data to 100% satisfied clients. In a first-of its kind initiative, the team successfully completed mapping ​of 1,085 villages covering an area of ​4,200 sqkm in western Maharashtra within eight months using drones. This helped the water resource department identify a massive revenue leak from unaccounted-for water use, eventually raising its revenue from INR 3 crore to INR 15-20 crore. Another important product that we provide is the Terra UTM as ​Platform as a Service (PaaS)​. One of the prime elements for a commercial drone industry to prosper is real-time coordination among drone operators across cities and integration of low-flying drones into the world of aviation. Terra UTM software helps in ​airspace traffic monitoring and real-time UAV monitoring, ​while bridging the gap between manned and unmanned aviation.

 We also have our in-house data processing software, the ​Terra Mapper​, an affordable software with highly advanced processing and mapping functions, as compared to competitive products. It provides consistent ​photogrammetry solutions from image processing to 3D image analysis, providing ​highly accurate 2D and 3D geospatial data suited for the needs of construction management.

Widespread tech integration

There has been widespread adoption and integration of technologies like IoT, AI and ML in the drone and geospatial industries. These technologies have brought in innovative solutions that have positively affected both the industries. Being another startup in the deep tech space, lengthy R&D requiring large investments is part of the operations. The vision of TerraDrone India has always been to develop an integrated ecosystem, and become an end-to-end solution provider.

With a dedicated R&D center in India and collaboration with 30+ companies that are part of the Terra Group contributing to the continuous innovation and development, we bring to the table some of the niche 20-25 products and solutions catering to all major markets and verticals where drones have been playing an active role in streamlining workflows and improving evidence-based decision-making.

Impact of downturn

There has been a noticeable slowdown in the drone sales and service industry. The private sector, which anyway contributed to a smaller portion of our business, has shrunk further. The Government sector too is exhibiting a conservative approach in terms of allocation and release of funds. The UAS sector is believed to be following the Gartner Hype Cycle. Being a futuristic technology, drones have attracted tech enthusiasts to constantly innovate, and the technology has developed faster than the regulatory framework, leaving most drone service providers thwarted.

The Inability to smoothly carry out operations after hitting the peak in the initial years, the industry is now passing through a trough of disillusionment. Coupled with the slow economic growth, policy restrictions and serving a very niche audience, Drones-as-a-Service (DaaS) companies such as ours are inadvertently facing challenges to deliver an adequate return on investment, even though the potential is enormous. Working in a siloed space, there has always been a lack of transparency in data leading to creation of massive data redundancy with no proper guidelines on sharing. ​

Collaboration is the only key​. Creation of a unified portal where both government and private organizations can publish the datasets operated by a single command control centre would help organisations utilize the data already created without having to redo it. Another way would be to regroup around business and societal problems and prioritize use cases on achievability and not attractiveness.

Also Read: Managing data smartly