Drone Industry – Global Emergence and Indian Market

The technology for a drone or an unmanned aerial vehicle has been around for quite a long time now. Primarily, drones were built for and employed in military situations. Their original purpose was to function as weapons, in the form of remotely guided aerial missile deployers.

Some of the earliest and more primitive forms of drones were recorded in 1849 when Austria attacked Venice using unmanned balloons filled with explosives. The Austrian army deployed over 200 of these incendiary balloons over the city of Venice during their siege of it. However, since they had no way of controlling them after launch, only one of these balloons found its way to the Venetians because of a sudden change in wind direction. As innovative as this use of balloons was, it however, does not meet the current criteria of drones, especially the ones used in the military. In 1916, after the First World War broke out, the world saw the first pilotless aircraft. The Ruston Proctor Aerial Target were pilotless military drones equipped with a radio guidance system developed by British engineer Archibald Low. However, due to the cutting-edge nature of Low’s work and technology, the British government did not appreciate it and chose not to follow up on his work after the war ended. Although the same cannot be said for the Germans who recognized the importance of his work and even tried to have him assassinated twice.

In the year 1935, the British developed a radio-controlled target drone named “Queen Bee”, which is believed to have initiated the use of the term “drone” for radio-controlled unmanned aircrafts. However, the most notable advancement in the case of drones was made with the emergence of the V-1 “Doodlebugs” made by the German army. These functioned through the use of pulsejet technology and were considered very sophisticated pieces of technology for their time. Later, the Americans reverse-engineered the Germans’ technology and developed their own pulsejet-powered drones such as the TD2D-1 Katydid and Curtiss KD2C.

Drones outfitted with cameras and surveillance equipment were first deployed during the war between Vietnam and America. Drones now, were also employed in a range of new roles such as acting as decoys in combat, launching missiles against fixed targets and dropping leaflets for psychological operations.

As the craze of RC aircrafts began to take hold, this technology began to trickle down to the general public. Six years after the turn of the century in 2006, the FAA officially issued the first commercial drone permit. However, only enthusiasts, a very small number of people, applied for permits in the first few years. Although, since 2010, there has been a sort of explosion in drone innovation and commercial interest in them. While earlier they were only used by the military or hobbyists, now a whole host of new users began swiftly adopting this technology. Drones outfitted with cameras were used by professionals for overhead shots and panoramas of cityscapes and landscapes and also by users who just wanted to have fun with the bleeding edge of technology. The use of drones outfitted with cameras is now commonplace in commercial photography and videography.

The ability to control drones with smartphones, along with the reduced price of the various sensors used in the production of drones means that this technology has become fairly widespread now. The rise of companies like DJI who have made leaps and bounds in this field have helped get more and more drones into the hands of the public. It is almost certain that drones will play an important role in the technology of the future as the world continues to find increasing applications of their utility.

Drone market is growing in India and overseas, driven by military as well as civilian usage, such as food and medicine delivery and usage in agriculture. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are moving fast to capture the emerging drone market. Besides established players, various start-ups are also working in this field. India is also seeing huge demand of drone applications.  Lots of Start-ups are emerging in India, which includes key players like Aarav Unmanned Systems, Martian Way Corporation, AerialPhoto, Detect Technologies, Drone Tech Lab, Martian Way Corporation, Aero360 etc. In India food delivery companies and healthcare providers have started experimental usage of drones for offering their services/deliveries to customers. NHAI is conducting surveys through drones and has made the application mandatory for the purpose of operation, maintenance and construction. As of now industry face key restrictions from UAS Rules 2021. Ministry of Civil Aviation is supporting Ease of Doing Business by re-visiting UAS Rules 2021, for relaxing key bottlenecks, whilst balancing the strategic aspects related to National Security. MoCA has issued consultation paper on Draft Drone Rules, 2021, for replacing UAS Rules 2021. This will facilitate the expansion of Drone Industry in India. It is estimated that Global drone market may reach approx. $50bn in few years from now. With adequate policy support and favorable eco-system, India has potential to capture significant pie of the Global Market.

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