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Drone As A Service ( DaaS )— RIL acquires drone startup Asteria Aerospace

The investment, was done through Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of RIL. The investment will give RIL a 51.78% holding in Asteria Aerospace.

Reliance has also proposed to invest a further Rs 125 crore in the drone startup, which is subject to Asteria achieving agreed milestones.

After this investment, which is expected to be completed by December 2021, Reliance will increase its shareholding to 87.3%.

“Asteria…is a full-stack drone technology company with in-house drone manufacturing capabilities…intending to deliver “drone-as-a-service” digital platform,”

Asteria Aerospace, founded by Purdue University aerospace engineering grads Nihar Vartak and Neel Mehta, has a range of drones in the micro, mini and fixed wing classes. The A200, which is a drone in the micro category, has DGCA certification, according to the company’s website.

On the commercial front, Asteria provides drone-based services to survey, inspect and monitor assets in industries such as oil and gas, mining, construction and agriculture. It also works in the security and surveillance sector, supplying drones to military, paramilitary and police forces.

Drone As A Service Business Model

To own, lease or pay for a service is an old conundrum that haunts every manager in any industry that requires machinery. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) are no different, and old dilemmas also apply to this new industry, although the considerations around choosing which option to utilize as a business model are quickly evolving.

Software companies in the early 90s made a lot of money selling hard copies and licenses of their programs, but they’ve migrated to a subscription model in the past few years where no media change hands and everything is downloaded and managed from a central location. With that model well established, it’s no surprise that the concept of selling a service based on a drone emerged as a viable option to ownership.

The idea behind DaaS is simple: a company does the research about the best hardware and software platform for the specific targeted industry and designs a compelling package of services which fits the demand of companies in the space.

With new laws in place, legally taking to the skies was going to be less of an ordeal, which alloweds a DaaS company to hire industry experts, drone pilots and software engineers to fine tune their offering in the selected market segments. Those segments include telecommunications, media, energy and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC).

The DaaS company acts as software and hardware agnostic systems integrator, which allows them to save their customers the headache of selecting a platform, training their personnel and keep up with the inevitable updates and upgrades to that hardware and software. Their services include planning, data capture, data processing, analysis and presentation in the client’s format.

As an example of how specific they get, DaaS Company’s approach to wind turbine inspections is based on known requirements from in-house industry experts and high demand. The approach to solar farm inspections was slightly different with these company’s making the initial investment and then aggressively marketing to companies active in renewable energy.

The most obvious return on investment (ROI) for their customers is centered around the elimination of downtime, and it’s a difference they can see when the DaaS model is compared to traditional methods. A full external inspection of a wind turbine done from the ground using scanners and optical methods runs for two hours or more, with gaps in certain areas and observation shadows that can’t be seen from the ground. The same inspection with a drone is less than 30 minutes and includes every inch of structure.

The best tool to convince undecided customers is to compare down time and show actual savings in the purchase and maintenance of hardware and software platforms, hiring of pilots and system analysts. Even though the technology is not 100% autonomous, the human interaction that is required is part of the service DaaS offers their customers.

Another powerful argument for utilizing this model centers around the integration of the DaaS model into the client’s existing workflows, and that ties into the DasS model being the “easy button” of the industry and even more ideal to utilize than the “complete drone solutions” we’re always hearing about. UAV technology is advancing rapidly, and has detailed the challenges that many struggle with when it comes to adoption. By the time an organization buys everything they need, trains their personnel and integrates it into their processes, something new often comes along and they have to start the adoption process all over again.

Considering the challenges that some run into when trying to effectively leverage drone technology, it can be an effective and lucrative proposition to hire experts and delegate certain processes to DaaS companies instead of having to learn and become proficient in these complicated and highly regulated issues. The DaaS model is one that makes a lot of sense for a variety of organizations that can’t effectively figure out what it will mean to sort through adoption challenges themselves.

We’re about to see the Golden Age of drone delivery — here’s why

  • Drones have become an important tool in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to create more resilient supply chains and socially distanced delivery services.
  • The crisis is driving innovation in drone policy as society has started to recognize that the utility of drones outweighs potential risks.
  • Fully integrating drones into supply chains will require collaboration and drive.

The way the world views drones is changing. Once a nuisance buzzing around our heads, drones are now life-saving tools in the battle against COVID-19.

Instead of nuisance or novelty, drones are becoming necessary.

Drones are shifting from a hyped-up super technology that can solve every challenge to a tool that can allow us to meet specific needs. This shift allows us to focus on specific implementations that drive the greatest return. Capital investments in some sectors are panning out, while markets are maturing around these uses. New aerial technologies are set to play a major role in an economy looking for innovative ways to meet the demands of the coronavirus crisis — and looking toward a global reset.

But integrating drones into supply chains takes a lot more than technology. It takes expertise across the ecosystem. It takes risk takers and visionaries across pay grades. Most importantly, it takes an entirely new way of thinking about aviation.

Dire times drive innovation. In this instance, the innovation is not in technology, but in policy. While some argue that drone technology wasn’t mature enough to be trusted at large scale — and cultural questions around privacy, noise and annoyance have hampered the expansion of flights — a societal and governmental shift in evaluating acceptable risk is driving greater implementation. With air travel down nearly 90% and dramatically fewer cars on the road due to shelter-in-place orders, the risks drones might present in the air and on the ground are significantly reduced. Meanwhile, pressure has been mounting to streamline drone use to deliver vital goods, support social distancing and enable essential workers to operate with greater efficiency and efficacy.

The times call for new technologies that connect the disconnected, provide resilience to at-risk supply chains and promote social distancing in last-mile delivery. Here’s how drones can play an important role — and why this crisis might usher in the Golden Age of drone delivery.

The early adopters are winning

A few early adopters approached drones with vigor. Rwanda saw the opportunity to save lives and prevent waste in their blood supply chain through drone deliveries, becoming the first country in the world with more drone flights than traditional ones. Switzerland embraced drones years before other nations, realizing benefits at small scale and taking a leadership position in Europe. In Australia, drone delivery of consumer products was tried and tested with mixed results, but significant lessons were learned along the way. Chinese e-commerce leader JD.com has launched multiple projects in cities across rural China, expanding use as soon as COVID-19 hit. It’s those companies and countries who have learned the most over the past three years of flight operations that are saving lives and delivering the most significant results from drones.

Just as World War I drove innovation and familiarity with the first commercial airplanes, so, too, has COVID-19 accelerated the use of drones for delivery of goods. Around the world, people are relying on deliveries to obtain food, medicines and other goods, and drones are starting to help.

The collaboration between the United Postal Service (UPS) and drone company Matternet, having first operated in Switzerland, became the first approved drone prescription delivery service in the United States, on 27 April 2020s, while UPS announced a new partnership with Wingcopter to their lineup for drone delivery of packages. Meanwhile, Alphabet’s Wing recently doubled deployment rates during the pandemic, enabling greater access to customers and providing a lifeline to local businesses. Wing’s partners have claimed a 50% increase in sales of certain goods thanks to the drone deliveries during the crisis.

What’s changing?

At the core of greater drone adoption is not significant technological maturation but rather a recognition that the utility of drones outweighs potential risks, such as collision with aircraft or use by bad actors. Society has begun to see a benefit from drones. And while the risk equation has not changed, pressure to address an existential threat (COVID-19) combined with a mandate for leadership has opened minds and incentivized decision makers to consider not just the risks, but also the benefits. In other words, government decision makers are being asked — for the first time in some developed economies — to expand what’s possible in response to the crisis.

In the United States, this expansion has led to regulatory exemptions to fast-track the process as a way to take humans out of dangerous situations — such as oil and gas inspections, or, as another example, to reduce human contact during the pandemic. Leveraging extensive knowledge gained in Rwanda and, more recently, testing delivery and collection of COVID-19 tests in Ghana, Zipline announced it will expand its US operations to deliver Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in partnership with Novant Health near Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Golden Age will require collaboration and drive

While the expansion of drone services in the United States is something to cheer, it does not necessarily represent a long-term shift in thinking. The latest regulatory exemptions specifically cite COVID-19 as an accelerator for approvals; they expire 30 June or upon “the expiration of the federal, state, or local COVID-19 recommendations or requirements.” This change in approach is being met with scepticism by some in the drone industry, who feel that only large and well-connected companies who have worked with the authorities in programs like the UAS International Pilot Program (IPP) will continue to operate after the immediate crisis ends. Working together as an industry to highlight the benefits and how to achieve best results will be critical in the coming year; as will learning from the success across the globe.

Six drone delivery use cases and lessons for companies to use

Traffic congestion, road work and limited parking options are among the many things delivery drivers deal with when bringing cargo to customers. Delivering things by drone could address all those challenges and others. Drone delivery is still in the early stages, but some companies are experimenting with the option. Here are six examples:

Sending medical supplies and samples via drones

One of the primary advantages of arranging deliveries with drones is that the contents carried could arrive substantially faster than if taken in a road-based vehicle. That’s crucial when delivering supplies that can help save lives.

In Ghana, a Californian company called Zipline wants to have four distribution centers operate 600 on-demand flights for medical supplies; the drones will bring the supplies to their destinations within a half-hour. It says the project, which will serve approximately 2,000 medical centers and 12 million patients, could ramp up its delivery frequency to thousands a day, too.

Then, in Gothenburg, Sweden, a successful trial showed the potential of using drones to transportmedical samples between two hospitals. It involved an off-the-shelf drone operated by a company called Everdrone. The flight was slightly under three miles.

These examples show the possibilities for transporting time-sensitive or delicate items. They also demonstrate the potential for using drones to deal with other challenges that could otherwise slow the progress of a delivery. In the Swedish city, especially, traffic backups and rush-hour demand pose obstacles that drones can overcome.

Making progress with drone meal deliveries

Food delivery is another area that drones could prove their viability, especially if they bring food to hungry consumers faster than other methods allow. Uber’s food delivery arm, Uber Eats, recently partnered with a company called ModalAI. The latter company’s technology enables a drone to avoid obstacles and navigate through its environment without needing GPS technology.

Instead, the drone depends on a 4G cellular link to Uber’s cloud server. The server allows for the operation and monitoring of the drone, while an on-board receiver helps the drone recognize and steer clear of obstacles as it moves.

If Uber Eats proceeds with this method, it doesn’t take humans out of the equation. But, a drone brings the food to a courier who brings it to a customer’s doorstep.

This successful attempt is a positive development for researchers who are looking for new and effective ways to help drones safely reach their destinations.

Helping Amazon continue to meet customer expectations

Amazon is a market leader that continually pushes the envelope regarding what’s possible for customer deliveries. For example, during its most recent Prime Day discount bonanza, the company promised that people would get their items in only one day.

Amazon boasts 150 million square feet of warehouse space across more than 175 fulfillment centers, most of which operate in North America. The company uses various strategies to help its customers receive their orders faster, ranging from specific ways of arranging inventory to deploying robots that work alongside humans in the sprawling warehouses.

So it’s no surprise that Amazon wants to move into the drone market, too. Its Prime Air program aims to create fully electric drones that fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages of five pounds or less in about a half-hour. The company says 75 to 90 percent of items purchased fall into that weight category.

Its newest drone model can take off and land vertically, plus fly in continual forward motion. Even though Amazon has not confirmed when it will start using this drone or which markets it will serve, the lesson learned here is that the company is not afraid to make bold moves if doing so makes customers more satisfied. It’s too early to say what the outcome will be, but the plans are impressive nonetheless.

Bringing more convenience to grocery shoppers

Although grocery shopping is an essential part of life, it can be a hassle. In Australia, Wing — a branch of Google-associated Alphabet Labs — offers drone-delivered groceries that arrive minutes after people request them through an app. The items customers can order range from hot coffee to over-the-counter drugs and freshly baked bread.

The service launched trials in 2017 and initially offered service in Canberra. At first, only 100 homes could use the service, but a previous trial involved 3,000 deliveries. More recently, people in Queensland can use the option as well. The company notes that one of the things it learned from its earliest drone deliveries on the continent is that parents with young children particularly like the service.

Additionally, Queensland is a smart choice for introducing more drone technology because the Australian state is exceptionally eager to facilitate drone technology. For example, the government recently published its drone strategy, and Queensland is the site of an annual drone congress that brings together drone professionals and thought leaders from around the globe.

So, a notable lesson here is that having support from local or regional leaders can be significant in helping companies move forward with their plans. Although more people are embracing drone technology, some still worry about potential safety concerns. Wing received a permit that stipulates how it can operate drones, and the rollout of the technology is seemingly going well so far.

Delivering breakable cargo safely

Some people who feel uncertain about drone technology might wonder about the possibility of items being broken in transit. It’s great to get items quickly, but not if they arrive in an unusable state. An Irish light bulb brand proved that doubt wrong when it made the first delivery of light bulbs by drone in the summer of 2019.

The company, Solus, has an 80-year history and is so popular that it sells a light bulb every six seconds. This first trip sent a package of 30 bulbs from the Solus depot to a convenience store more than 11 miles away. Something essential to learn from this example is that there’s seemingly no limit to what a drone can carry if it’s light enough.

Solus said the contents of the package arrived in perfect condition and ahead of schedule. That result should give confidence to companies that are unsure if their fragile items are suitable for drones.

Sending items to offshore ships

Drones can also work well for delivering things to places that are hard to reach. That’s what Airbus is finding out with its Skyways project. That initiative launched in Singapore to test the feasibility of bringing items to offshore ships with drones. The first trips involved carrying 3D-printed objects on a journey thattook about 10 minutes in total.

The company hopes its use of drones can cut costs while reducing emissions. It partnered with local maritime authorities and a logistics company to help make its ideas come to life. The example is another reminder of how companies that want to succeed with drone journeys may need to partner with others to make things go smoothly.

Exciting developments in drone deliveries

These six use cases show how drones can assist with timely deliveries. It will be interesting to see how things progress as other brands follow the leads of these pioneering companies.

Drone Based Threats / Opportunities to Assets — — Detection / Destruction of Rogue Drones, Connected Drone Based IIoT Solutions for Surveillance / Inspection Of Assets

While the drone can be very useful but if misused can destroy human life and assets.

We had done a small study on the global threats being witnessed due to rogue drones and acts of terrorism / vandalism as experienced on commercial / industrial / personal assets worldover. With the current geopolitical situation with neighbors, the threat of drones to every country’s assets is imminent and calls for urgent action. We have found anti drone solutions that suit the global mega assets. These and other useful cases of drone based surveillance, inspection and monitoring are discussed below.

1. The Threat :

a. The increasingly easy access to mini/micro UAVs makes them a growing potential threat to national and commercial security. Easy to produce, cheap to buy, simple to fly, and hard to detect, commercially and non-commercially available drones are among the most quickly evolving technological threats to military and civilian interests. In the US, a commercial drone reportedly alarmed the Secret Service when the UAV flew too close to the President’s golf resort.

b. In May 2019, an oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was hit by drones west of its capital of Riyadh, Saudi energy minister said, shortly after rebels in Yemen claimed they carried out coordinated drone strikes against the kingdom. Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they launched seven drones against vital installations in Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen to the north. KSA had to shut down the pipeline.https://www.cbsnews.com/news/saudi-arabia-says-oil-pipeline-hit-by-drones/

c. Drones were recovered on tarmac at the SFO International airport in March 2019. https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Drone-Recovered-on-Tarmac-at-San-Francisco-International-Airport-Prompts-Investigation-488047951.html.

d. There are many such drone threats compiled on the enclosed link. https://www.dedrone.com/resources/incidents/all

i. Drone was flown over Michigan Stadium during game; two arrested.

ii. Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to London came scarily close to colliding with illegal drone.

iii. Drones Nearly Hit Planes 117 Times in Ohio in Five Years.

iv. Two booked for flying drone in Mumbai during Ganpati procession.

2. Inference :

a. Unprotected critical infrastructures such as Government Buildings, Airports, Hospitals, Banks, Financial Hubs, Industrial Infrastructure like Refineries, Petrochemicals, Data Centers, Ports, Jetties, Nuclear and Electrical power plants, Energy and Water utility companies are easy targets for unauthorized drone activity and thus — if left unprotected — pose a threat to national assets and public safety.

b. Whether as a safeguard against espionage or — in the worst case — a drone attack with explosives, it is extremely important to detect and fend off attacks in these areas.

3. Solution :

a. Anti Drone System for protection from rogue Drones :

i. Drone Detection For Critical Infrastructure :

1. A Drone Detection System should detect drones even in difficult terrain and should be effortlessly adapted to the given infrastructure. The system should sound alarm upon threat detection, locate the pilot and the drone and immediately immobilizes the drone.

a. Detection range > 8 Kms.

b. Identification Range ( birds or drones ) ~ 6–7 Kms.

c. Immobilization Range ~ 6 Kms.

d. Biggest Assets Spread Radius ~ 4–5 Kms.

e. Installation Types : Portable, Mobile, Enhanced.

f. Software should help to model the installations as per the topology of the infrastructure being protected.

g. Fail Safe Mode can be programmed for safe landing at origin / pilot.

h. Safe Landing can be misplayed if a rogue drone has a setting for fail safe as our asset. The same has to be regulated by State Aviation Authority ( DGCA in case on India ) to make it impossible to set any other setting than the origin.

2. The system should be designed to detect the intrusion of unwanted drones by using real time directional measurements of the drone’s electromagnetic emissions (including its remote control). It should warn users of the DDS of incoming drones and sends alerts.

ii. Can Be Used Anywhere :

1. The drone detection system should be used virtually anywhere. Typical use cases include the protection of boarders, events, residential areas, governmental facilities as well as commercial/industrial sites such as refineries/nuclear plants. Available as a single-site or multiple-site solution, the system should be capable to be adjusted to the characteristics of the respective terrain/area to be monitored.

iii. Hardware :

1. The drone detector must be based on the 3D antenna, a real-time spectrum analyzer (XFR V5 PRO, RR or RF Command Center) and a special software plug-in for the Suite software. Combining all these elements should allow for 24/7 monitoring and recording with uninterrupted data streaming. This system saves considerable measurement time, and is both compact and flexible. It can be set up at virtually any place we need to surveil/protect.

b. Drones For Surveillance and Industrial Automation :

i. Factories, refineries, utilities (water/wastewater, electric), and related industrial sites are complex systems and structures with inspection and maintenance procedures required for optimal operation and regulatory compliance. Oil rigs, chimneys or antennae — a company’s large infrastructure assets are typically remote and difficult to survey. This makes the tried-and-tested method of manual maintenance inspection a costly, time-consuming and sometimes even dangerous process.

ii. But with drones, it doesn’t need to be this way. The principle is simple: Instead of a technician climbing up a chimney or wind turbine, why not use a drone armed with a camera to beam footage to an experienced inspector? Or better still, kit out the device with advanced visual and data analytics capabilities and let it assess the asset’s status and maintenance needs itself.

iii. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can access hard-to-reach places faster, cheaper and with less risk than manual inspections, and potentially allow the asset to remain on line. They may one day also be able to carry out maintenance.

iv. Industrial drones or UAVs are considered as the next breakaway in the ongoing Industry 4.0 revolution. In an industrial backdrop, these drones become a core part of industrial automation along with IoT devices. The novelty of an industrial drone — or UAV or Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) — is to monitor regions or terrains inside or outside a manufacturing plant which generally cannot be inspected by human workers, either due to their hazardous setting or inaccessibility due to size or environment. On site inspection by human workers can be time consuming and in explosive environments, next to impossible unless some complex computer systems are used.

v. A commercial or military drone has an end-to-end connection via wireless, from user to controller. An industrial UAV, however, much like any other device in the IoT web, communicates directly to an industrial control system such as the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition ( SCADA ) or DCS. Some of the parameters measured by the mounted IoT sensors are temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, motion, electric & magnetic field strength, coronal arc discharge, cell phone signals, and methane levels.

vi. These sensors communicate directly with the utility’s core communication network. This level of integration requires bidirectional communication transmission security and logical protocol synchronization . Such communications have been demonstrated using cellular telephony as well as licensed- and unlicensed-band wireless.

vii. UAS’ can do aerial imagery, visual imagery, thermal imagery and even radio-frequency imagery of factory stations and substations. Using the measurements gathered by IoT sensors as a novelty is of great significance to the success of the Industry 4.0 based smart factory. Widespread adoption and integration across major automation markets, such as mining, energy & utilities, agriculture, oil & gas, infrastructure, emergency response, and life sciences calls for intelligent solutions that combine UAV hardware and automation software to deliver tangible results at scale.

viii. This has prompted the automation industry and drone manufacturers to look for a disruptive technology that will liberate the UAV: namely, high-speed data analytics combined with Industrial IoT, cybersecurity, blockchain enabled smart contracts as logic and sensor-mounted drones.

ix. Hence it is clear that UAVs are the next generation in low-cost industrial sensors and mobile platforms in the interconnected web of Internet of Things. And they are evolving past just civilian, commercial or military use.

4. Flight Mechanics & Control of Drones for Industrial Applications

a. Industrial drones, commercial drones, and military drones operate at different speeds and heights, and have different performance characteristics and flight profiles. To this end, a weight versus power versus flight time can be drawn to reveal the empirical data related to battery life and range required for operation. Weight versus power versus flight (operational) time presents the classic trade-off in a limited fuel-supply flight operation, be it aircraft, drones, or spacecraft. Empirical data has given way to estimators regarding the battery-operated lifetime for droneoperation. Following figure presents the estimated range based on a wide array of parameters.

b. The overall weight of the sensor-laden drones determines battery life. The more the weight, the more the power consumed by the sensors. It also heavily depends on the number of functional sensors. A standard consumer drone can operate for 20 minutes. However, industrial drones can operate anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours. Military drones are a different case as they might be propelled using chemical propulsion. In order to improve flight characteristics, especially flight time and range, we look to increase the energy density of the battery.

c. Control plays a major role in the success of drone operations. The latest innovation in the mode of control is the Beyond-Visual-Line-Of-Sight (BVLOS) operation, which is a system that enables controlling the flight beyond the pilot’s visual line. Although most nations do not permit the use of BVLOS in industrial settings, attempts are being made to prove the safety and efficiency of BVLOS for UAVs. This is being done because VLOS inspections have their obvious limitations.

d. For example, BVLOS will let power grid personnel monitor cable lines over longer corridor stretches. And this operates to other critical infrastructure. However, it will not be before 2019 that the approval for BVLOS in such applications will be given. Organizations such as the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA (USA) and Director General of Civil Aviation or DGCA (India) lay the guidelines, restrictions and protocols for owning and operating UAVs.

5. Connected Drone Based IIoT

1. Innovations in RPA control systems & flight dynamics in an automation setting are leading to the use of inexpensive, lightweight materials for microcontrollers. And networked wireless communications (IoT) are creating unique drones that can coordinate and fly in large formations and flocks to tackle an industrial situation (even calamities) efficiently. Some of the situations include a mining or oil extraction plant.

2. Methane sensing, fracking sites, bridge inspection, power generation facilities in coal-fired plants are other examples of UAV applications. This level of connected IIoT environment is achieved using a variety of sensors in one drone that communicate with the sensors of other drones. DraganFly, Intel and Airobotics are some of the companies which have been supplying drones for industrial applications for several years.

3. UAVs form an essential component of our Industrial IoT network, our defense & security, and our commercial spaces, and might soon take over much of human activities.

4. It is also an essential component in the realization of Industry 4.0.

6. Conclusion :

a. The intersection of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cyber-physical security, bid data analytics, bloackchain based smart contracts, AI and sensor-laden drones presents an array of opportunities for use in automation. We should adapt and pioneer in this too.

The Next Big Thing Post COVID-19! Creating a Drone Economy in India

The Post COVID-19 world gives us an unprecedented opportunity for reimagining economies, as well as the technologies that will power growth. In India, the possibilities for “new economy” activities and employment based on drones are significant. Regulations regarding airspace management, strategic choices, technologies adopted and investments can aid the market to grow rapidly.

Today, India in one of the top countries among the drone importing nations². While the value of drone imports are driven by military imports, with the new regulatory policy in place, we India is seeing a hockey stick growth in commercial (B2B, B2G, B2C) & Recreational applications driven end-use drones. Study by BIS Research predicts that the market for commercial drones might supersede the military market by 2021, approximately reaching 900 million USD.

Drones in flight in downtown Reno, Nevada, during “shakedown” tests for NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management project, or UTM. The final phase of flight tests, known as Technical Capability Level 4, ran from May through August 2019 to study how the UTM system can integrate drones into urban areas. Credits: NASA/Dominic Hart

Regulations and Potential Indigenous Solution for Enabling Hyper Growth

To support growth of drone-based services, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) first unveiled draft norms for usage of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in October 2017, which came intro effect on December 2018. A few key highlights from the latest revision of the document³ are:

● UAVs are classified into five segments based on their weight including payload

● All, except under 250 gms, are to be registered with a Unique Identification Number (UIN)

● Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) rules will regulate UAVs depending on their classification

● A permit is required for commercial drone operations, except for those in the Nano category flown below 50 feet and those in the Micro category flown below 200 feet

● Drone pilots must maintain a direct visual line of sight at all times and can not fly above 400 feet

● Each flight is to be tagged and recorded with the data made available to the regulator on demand

For any emerging technology, awareness drives engagement, which subsequently drives adoption. At this point, bringing regulatory certainty is the most important factor that will drive growth. For the long-term predictable growth, however, regulatory certainty is not the only factor that drives growth: we must consider the situation in its entirety and then carefully define the roadmap at a tactical level.

India will need at least a million drone pilots by 2025, creating enormous employment opportunities

Consider requirements for talents to keep with the over 600 thousands drones⁴ in the sky already, India will need at least a million pilots by 2025 to support the demand for drone flights. Establishing a training and certification infrastructure is an urgent need. Leveraging India’s already established engineering education infrastructure and bringing them under central certification authority will ensure quality and also safeguard that India as a nation meets the demand of the future.

Application of the drone technologies will evolve rapidly throughout the next decade, might include use cases that we may not have even considered. Proactive orchestration, fit for purpose processes and making it “first time right” mindset will ensure drone technologies can deliver at its fullest potential.

UTM Considerations for Indian Airspace Management

“UTM” stands for “Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management”. It’s an issue that is critically important to the drone industry. Urban population of India has seen a rise from 17.1% to 29.2% and number of people in India’s cities will overtake the rural population in the next three decades. Current Land Infrastructure is already exhausted and that automatically makes Aerial infrastructure the next best alternative. Population density / square kilometer makes it a mandate that we take a broad enough view to design a system that can serve 1.5B people. Without a foolproof system that ensures all stakeholders that manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft will be able to share the skies safely, proper “drone integration” into the airspace will not take place.

5Fs of UTM: Technology Considerations

Regulatory impact is currently one of the most important factors affecting the pace of adoption of drone-powered solutions by business and government entities. Drone regulations have changed in recent years from being treated as a niche hobby to becoming part of regular aviation operations, to a point where national authorities have started developing special regulatory frameworks to address the most urgent issues. The following guiding principles are critical for future success:

Future Proof: Intelligent (Detect and Avoid) and scalable technology that not only supports tactical needs but also meets strategic demands of 2035 and beyond

Failure Proof: Tamperproof solution where Public and National Security is treated as a central theme

Fungible: Enables seamless integration between multiple higher airspace systems/Policies/other UTMs/Anti Drone Systems

Flexible: Supports unseen and unheard demands of 2035 and beyond

Fit for purpose: Democratic, to support innovation, to create the jobs of the future and accessible to all

The biggest challenge is not designing the system, but that of testing the system in a controlled environment, simulating scenarios to quantify risk with current sets of policies/ infrastructure.

2019–2035: Expected Maturity Curve of RPA and Drones Ecosystem in India

For the next couple of years, RPA/UAV deployments are expected to be limited within “Visual line of sight” use cases (Infrastructure maintenance, Survey and Mapping, Agriculture, Media, mining etc) driven by start-up ecosystem and drone service companies.

In India, the six areas where we expect drones to be used are Agriculture, Insurance, Entertainment, Utilities, Mining and Insurance. While most visible usage of drones today is in wedding photography and videos, we expect Agriculture, Infrastructure and Insurance to grow rapidly in the near future.

Figure 1: Potential usage of drones in India

The Economic Cost of Traffic congestion in India surpasses Rs. 60,000 crores per year, which makes Low Altitude Aerial and Urban Mobility as a natural choice. Uber⁵ has identified India as one of their air taxi test markets.

“Beyond Visual line of sight” drone operations have already gathered momentum in last mile delivery, Medical and Pathological delivery, Disaster recovery etc.

In addition, “Beyond Visual line of sight” operations have already gathered momentum⁶ and expected to be a reality by 2023. Other BVLOS use cases include, last mile delivery (3 out of 7 start-ups selected by DGCA for BVLOS solution are delivery companies), Medical and Pathological delivery (Zipline Partnered with Apollo), Disaster recovery (Bihar Flood) further strengthens the interest.

BVLOS operations will fuel unprecedented innovations in the aerial mobility space primarily because there is No/limited entry barrier to enter drones as a service business especially in the Micro- Small- Medium segment. While DGCA’s Digital Sky->NPNT initiative aims to address “Visual line of sight” tactical challenges in an urban setup, but packaging Urban operations (400ft) and Rural operations (Precision Agriculture) as a single solution needs further consideration.

Business models like “Pay as You Fly” and “On demand Drone Services” are expected to evolve in the next 3–5 years, and push hyperlocal commerce with handsome financial incentive. This will create an uncontrollable chaos in the national airspace, if not addressed now.

Strategic Choices and Investments for a Future System

Following are the “arrowheads” that need deep experimentation and multi-layer advocacy, so that as a country, we make strategic choices and investments towards a homegrown UTM specific to India which can be integrated safely, efficiently into the national airspace.

Figure 2: Arrowheads for experimentation and multi-layer, multi-agency advocacy and collaboration

Summary

It’s important to take a step back and re-visualise how the future of sky will look like in the next 10 years and make strategic investments towards a homegrown UTM specific to India which can be integrated safely, efficiently into the national airspace. Low altitude aerial operation is sensitive and vulnerable to hyperlocal environment change. Designing a robust UTM system that can support BVLOS operations at scale needs active and joint participation from Government, Industry and Academic Partners.


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