Drones in India: are drones allowed in India? The Policy and Opportunities it brings

Drones in India

We talk about the New Drone Policy in India, issues with the policy, benefits it brings to various sectors in the economy, businesses which have used drones and opportunities drones bring for the entrepreneurial culture in India.

The start of the Drone era

Flying objects are no more conspiracy theories of UFOs in the sky because it seems to have been overtaken by drone enthusiast who are experimenting their new startups based on ideas drawn from these aeronautical devices. In May 2014,Mumbai became the first city in the country, to have delivered a pizza on a drone. But considering how new a concept the whole thing was for India, neither the government nor users knew how exactly was this going to fly out. But nevertheless, the new idea clicked well with the people living in a bustling city with jammed roads for traditional delivery boys. 

A motor, a propeller, and an image recognition software, all of it assembled together and flying around in the campus by young engineering undergrads, the drone. A technology that has a scope to not just experiment with traditional delivery systems, but includes sectors like healthcare, defense, media, entertainment, agriculture, manufacturing

But is the Indian ecosystem conducive enough for drone technology to be utilized in so many sectors? How are we placed when we consider the trends happening on the global level? Where and how are we exactly testifying and implementing startups in India? Are investors ready to support the burgeoning market of technological intervention? 

How the questions are answered will determine how successful would India be when it comes to adopting drone tech in the near present. How stakeholders perform – which includes the government, policy makers, legislators, the entrepreneurial ecosystem, they all are key elements who can unlock the full potential of drones. The New Drone Policy of 2018 has now finally made flying high drones possible. This decision has paved the way for the adoption and beginning of an excited term for new market opportunities. 

The adoption of the new policy has brought in interesting application cases, which includes the reduction of humans in aviation sector, and including various surveyors to gather precise data of spatial information to use for city planning, development, and administration. This puts on priority the need to have precise framework for safety and security to make it immune from misuse.  

New Drone Policy

Drone 2.0 policy has established a system of approval and procedures which needs to be strictly followed. Some of the listings include proper characterization and division of drones according to the size and weight of the drone. 

New Drone Policy in India
New Drone Policy in India 1
Source –

Issues surrounding the Drone Policy

But there are certain issues which still remain with the policy that has come in place:

  • The website which government talked about where new drones could be registered without falling into the depths and technicalities of the government paper machinery, is still not live. This makes it very difficult for startups to maintain the operations and handling costs of the drones until getting clearances.
  • Similarly, the new policy also doesn’t take into account, the issues arising out of smaller drones and their free movement. While India has talked about Right to Privacy with the recent Supreme Court Judgement upholding the same, the ways to cover up for the many instances of unidentified drone activities comes at a cost of privacy. Activities related to drones are not only confined to delivery and social services, but also with trespassing, corporate espionage, burglary and unauthorised photography. 
  • Furthermore, the policy also ignores the advances in Artificial Intelligence, which has its unique impacts on drone-based solutions. For example, the way drones collect, store, restore, share, and use the data is ignored. While in the USA, some of the states have put up limits on surveillance based on drone technology like a compulsory warrant from the police, the same is not true for India. 
  • Rhode Island, in another example, has prohibited the usage of drone for capturing images and recognizing faces. 

What can be done?

digitized platform for getting approvals of applications, renewing permits, and alerting different agencies with cases of emergency can be pushed for. Aerial drones can thus be used not just for mapping and planning, but also in disaster relief efforts, controlling traffic, security and policy, studying environmental implications due to anthropogenic activities, and agricultural usage.

Drone and the Start-Up world:

UnearthInsight, a company providing services to the new startups, conducted a study and concluded that the market for commercial end-usage of drones may hit a total market bandwidth of $1 billion by 2020. 

1) Healthcare

healthcare sector New Drone Policy in India
Image showing the first drone flying blood sample in Uttarakhand.

Solutions across the industry which are drone-dependent, for example, in healthcare – for carrying diagnostic samples. In one of its first, a drone was used to successfully transfer a unit of blood from a Primary Health Care Centre in Uttrakhand to a hospital’s blood bank- 32 km from the PHC. While it would have taken 50-60 minutes to deliver it via Indian roads, it took nearly 18 minutes via the drone.

2) Defence

defence Drone Policy in India

DRDO, an Indian organization focusing on defense research, have developed their own domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program. DRDO Lakshya is a target drone which can be used for target acquisition and discreet aerial reconnaissance.  

3) Food

food delivery New Drone Policy in India
The above image is just a depictionSource –

Zomato, the most well known and one of the fastest to hit the unicorn startup status, has committed its efforts in setting up a drone-based delivery service network, across the whole country.

4) Mining

mining sector New Drone Policy in India

Similarly, Tata Steel, the first steel company in India, has started to work with AARAV, which is a Bangalore-based data analytics startup. They focus on deploying drones in the iron ore mines of Noamundi in Jharkhand, in order to report compliance and monitor the volumes of production. They are also working with a Bauxite Company to ensure safe deployment of manpower and equipment in the mine. 

5) Internet

internet New Drone Policy in India
Picture is of Project Aquila taken up by Facebook

Big giants like Facebook, Amazon, and Google, are investing a total of $200 million for using drones for expanding internet and delivery services. Even sports and real estate sector are getting indulged in the adoption of new technology. Companies like Prestige and Shobha use drones to monitor the progress or showcase progress pictures or videos to customers.

UnearthInsight says that there are over a 100 startups based on drones in India, which is a total of 681 in the US129 in ChinaLess than 20 percent of the 100 startups are funded. 70 percent of these startups are generating revenues. Increasing adoptions vis-a-vis insurance companies and mining has increased the scope thus. 

The Final Word

It is now time that the drone-based startups start exploring the partnership and pricing models, along with the agnostic solutions the described problems. Indian government should look for policy mechanisms taking considerations from the mechanisms followed in other countries. But what should be underlined that guidelines alone cannot ensure better implementation as well as compliance.

Drone technology requires research and developmental work to understand how that can be used in India’s landscape. Unearth has focused in its report on the usage of drone with startup profiling on the basis of financial analysis and key metrics.

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