The CIA first used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over Afghanistan in 2000, and post the 2001 terror attacks in the USA drones have become a part of the US military. However, since then the consumption of drones has evolved considerably. From military to commercial sectors, drone technology is fast being adopted by individuals, corporates and governments.
In fact, experts are hopeful that the commercial use of drones will soon turn it into a booming sector, thus making these available for mass consumption. According to a report by Pricewaterhouse Cooper LLP last year, the global commercial market for drones is expected to reach US$ 127 billion by the year 2020. Currently, the global commercial market for drones is at US$ 2 billion. While this is something that will happen in the future, there are a few business opportunities that have already caught the eye of drone enthusiasts.
UAVs are expected to be available for mass consumption by the end of the next decade. With industries across the globe betting big on this technology, it has become imperative to create engineers who are professionals in operating UAVs. Thus, a lot of drone technology firms are venturing into the UAV training space, which will ultimately create demand for the technology. And with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) expected to come up with a clear set of regulations for operating drones commercially, India is expected to witness a sharp rise in the number of drone enthusiasts. According to a report by 6Wresearch last year, the Indian UAV industry is projected to hit US$ 421 million by 2021.
“Drone technology is the future, but we cannot expect everyone to have access to auto-operated drones as these are very expensive. Hence, we need professionals who understand how to operate drones, their technicalities and features, among others,” says Jagadesh Chander Munivel, director at Maavan Aeronautics, a drone training institute in Chennai.
Currently, the institute has more than 50 engineers training on the various aspects of operating a drone. The institute has courses in UAV design and manufacturing, flight dynamics, pilot training, autopilot training, aerial mapping and imagery. The initial cost (to set up an institute, which includes buying drones, rent among others) is estimated to be US$ 38,000, with an additional investment of US$ 30,000 to US$ 40,000.
Across the globe, the biggest challenge continues to be the high prices of drones, which make it difficult for training institutes to impart hands-on experience to their students. Most institutes initially train their students on simulators as handling of drones is an unwarranted cost.
In the commercial space, a lot of sectors such as mining, real estate, infrastructure, agriculture and oil have been relying on drones for data that is otherwise difficult to access. As per a study by Allied Market Research, aerial photography via drones is estimated to reach the US$ 2.8 million mark worldwide by 2022. For instance, Mumbai based drone startup Airpix specialises in using drones for aerial mapping of areas that are otherwise difficult to reach. “We provide data acquisition and analysis solutions using UAVs for multiple industries. The solutions and reports provided by the company help its clients in project design, progress monitoring, volume calculations and inspection of critical assets,” says Shinil Shekhar, co-founder of Airpix.
Shekhar adds, “Drones are just a platform. What you make of them depends on how you select the sensors based on your project requirement and what kind of insights you derive after processing that data.” Currently, the company’s client portfolio includes the Indian government and the Indian Railways as well as a few private firms such as Larsen & Toubro, Shapoorji & Pallonji and JSW Steel.
While globally, industrial use of drones for mapping is done extensively, India is still at a nascent stage. Industry players hold the current regulations responsible for the slow growth in this business category. “For drones to become a great business, healthy regulations have to be in place—regulations that will promote the technology, safeguard national security and ensure public safety,” notes Shekhar.
Aerial cinematography and photography
This is one category that took flight immediately after drones made their debut commercially. Drones are being extensively used in filming, news reporting, real-estate and wildlife photography. In India and the rest of the world, high-profile events such as weddings have been using drones to capture aerial views of the event for quite some time. And with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) legalising the use of commercial drones last year, drone photography and cinematography are anticipated to grow.