Niharika Kolte Alekar
Bird's Eye View of the Drone Industry in India
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
In the spotlight: Ms. Ishveena Singh | Technology Writer | GW 50 Rising Stars 2021 | Geospatial, Proptech, Drones
Tell us a bit about your work and background. What inspired you to pick this industry?
Whether it’s writing a snappy front-page headline for an American daily, crafting feature stories for the world’s largest-selling English-language newspaper, or extolling the virtues of the latest and greatest technologies for a global audience, words have been my bread and butter for 15 years.
For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed reading about intriguing, upcoming technologies. So, when the opportunity presented itself to get a better understanding of the inner workings of some of the most far-reaching technology platforms, I was happy to latch on.
You've been tracking this industry for a long time. What is your take on the growth trajectory of this industry in India?
The drone industry in India had a slow start, but now, several developments have taken place at an increasingly rapid pace. If the momentum lasts, and the government continues to support the industry, India can surely realize its dream of becoming the drone capital of the world.
What are your thoughts on DJI and the NPNT problem? Given that DJI is a market leader, do you think this issue will ever see a resolution?
The ‘No Permission, No Takeoff’ requirement has given a huge boost to Indian drone manufacturers and I’m all for it. But at the same time, having interacted with numerous DJI customers across the world in a professional capacity, I realize that we are missing out on the exceptional value mix that DJI has created in the global industry through two decades of relentless innovation. The reliability and cost-effectiveness of DJI products cannot be matched overnight, and until that happens, why should Indian enterprises remain devoid of the most ground-breaking yet affordable drone technology that’s out there? After all, there are several ways to protect drone data while using DJI products, including keeping the equipment entirely offline or using Local Data Mode.
What according to you is holding the drone industry back in India?
The unavailability of safe, reliable, and affordable drone platform solutions. A service provider may get their hands on the world’s most sophisticated LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) or multispectral sensors available today, but do we have readily-available, dependable, NPNT-compliant drones that would help to actually leverage these investments? Combine this lack of productivity gains with the sluggish development of the Digital Sky platform and it’s not hard to see how the Indian drone industry has been weighed down by its own system of checks and balances.
What are your thoughts on the draft BVLOS rules in India?
Now that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in an exemplary positive step, has already approved 20 drone consortia to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) trial flights in India, the hope is that the test results will be transparently shared with all industry stakeholders. A structured risk assessment framework would play a crucial role in the systematic evaluation of all operational dangers and mitigation measures for BVLOS operations. The United States and the European Union can provide valuable lessons to the DGCA from their learnings regarding both BVLOS regulations and implementing a robust and trustworthy Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system.
Have you seen gender disparity in this industry? If yes, would you encourage women to be a part of this industry?
There is a glaring gender disparity in the drone industry, not just in India but across the globe. In the United States, barely 7 % of the licensed commercial drone pilots are women – even though the drone industry is easier to break into when compared to some other areas of aviation.
I’d definitely encourage young girls to pursue STEM subjects in schools and women to expand their presence in the drone industry because the market opportunity is too large to ignore. We need more women in leadership roles, managing teams and projects, helping shape the regulatory environment, and providing innovative solutions for the technical and operational aspects of drone use.
There are several female-only social media groups and online communities whose sole purpose is to support and encourage women in the industry by sharing tips and experiences, fostering collaborations, and building friendships. Many top B2B commercial drone events have also started offering speaking and networking initiatives dedicated to women. An online community that I’m closely associated with, Women Who Drone, provides course material and tutorials to budding female drone pilots to help them start monetizing their aerial content.
So, yes, this may feel like a male-dominated field right now, but it won’t be the case for long. And I urge women to stay focused on their goals and not be intimidated by any potential negative gender bias in the drone industry.
You were recently featured in “GW 50 Rising Stars 2021”. What does this recognition mean to you?
When I left behind a career in mainstream journalism in 2015 to become a part of the technology landscape, I had to navigate an incredibly steep learning curve. As is the case with most industry outsiders, the terms ‘Geospatial’ or ‘Geographic Information Systems’ were not a part of my everyday parlance. And in some ways, not speaking the same language as the technology wizards of the industry worked in my favor because I could differentiate between the ‘features’ and ‘benefits’ of a product more organically.
Being recognized as one of the Rising Stars of the geospatial industry comes as a huge honor as I cater to both technical and non-technical audiences today. Working in this rapidly-evolving ecosystem is equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, and it’s good to know that hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
What is your message to the industry players and the regulators in India?
Well, one of the advantages of being late to the party is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. India can learn from the experiences and best practices of many countries that have accepted and encouraged drone use across both commercial and humanitarian sectors, and make the policy and regulatory environment more conducive for the industry. This would help to tackle the problem of investment deficiency and attract higher deep tech funding, which should give a boost to home-grown research and development efforts by the industry.
Thank You Ishveena for sharing your views and insights with Volar Alta. More power to you :)