Drones in Agriculture - A Tech Entrepreneur's Perspective of the Current Scenario in India

A BITS Pilani alumnus, Pradeep is a passionate entrepreneur and a technology leader who is always on the constant look-out for new tech advancements that have the potential to solve modern business problems.

Siliconindia recently got a chance to interact with Pradeep, wherein he discussed about his career journey from being a corporate employee into a technology entrepreneur, and even shared valuable insights on various aspects about the usage of drones in the agriculture sector in India. Read on to know more about this exciting topic -

What inspired to quit your comfortable, well-paying job and take-up entrepreneurship, especially in the drone tech field?

Despite not being my preferred field to pursue a career, I started my career as a Software Engineer. However, since my job role was into support rather than development or testing, I lost whatever interest I had in the software sector. However, I continued my role in the software sector, but shifted my focus towards getting familiarized with other emerging tech verticals such as automobiles, drones and others. Later on, I started involving myself with other functions within the company such as finance and HR. Also, since my office campus was very close to the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, I started regularly attending various industry events there as well, which helped me immensely in understanding thee various intricacies of running a business. The knowledge that I gained so far gave me the confidence to finally take-up entrepreneurship and joined an early stage consulting startup named Efficient Carbon as the Partner in 2011.

In the meantime, I continued to keep an open eye for other emerging technologies in the market and was intrigued by the numerous advancements and use cases that were being introduced in the drone technology space. Realizing the potential that this new, yet upcoming technology had especially in terms of niche industries such as defense and agriculture, I did a thorough market research to identify the potential use cases of drones in the agri sector to address the pain points of the farmers. This is where I came up with the idea of automating the crop dusting process using drones since manually spraying the fields with chemicals and pesticides is hazardous to humans.

What are the key challenges Indian companies are currently facing for developing fully indigenous drones?

Although India is very strong in terms of capabilities and the talent required for manufacturing drones, it is still heavily reliant on other countries for raw materials such as semiconductor chips. However, this depends on the sector for which the drones are being manufactured. Also, there are strict guidelines that are to be met for the drones to be used in the defense sector; one such mandate being that all the hardware components as well as the software used in those drones to be completely indigenous. As a result, it is extremely challenging for the Indian drone manufacturers to produce drone that can be utilized by the defense sector.

Briefly explain the evolution of drones in the agriculture sector in recent times.

Most of the use cases of drone tech that we are witnessing lately in the agriculture industry can be segregated into two broad categories – Agri Automation and Agri Intelligence. While automation concerns mechanizing physical tasks such as crop dusting, spraying fertilizers/pesticides and supplying water, intelligence refers to gathering data using numerous sensors, analyze it and derive insights/recommendations that help farmers make smart decisions. Although we started with the automation part, we are now looking at integrating both automation and intelligence into our drones to facilitate precision agriculture for the farmers.

How is the government playing an active role in encouraging the drone usage in the agriculture sector in India?

With the labor shortage problem escalating in recent times and the increased awareness among the farmers, an increasing number of farmers now want to leverage drone technology into their irrigation practices. If recent estimates are to go by, around 4-5 lakh drones are required to effectively cater diverse needs of the agriculture sector in the country. However, there is a severe dearth of drones in India today (<10,000) that can be used by the agriculture industry. As a result, the government along with the support of the industry players, is encouraging the development of drones that are capable of efficiently cater numerous agriculture related use cases. Thus, we expect to have around 50,000 drones over the next 2-3 years and over 2 lakh drones operational within the next 5-7 years to support the agri sector within the country.

Additionally, with a collective vision to support the development of both drone and agriculture industries in the country, the Indian government has also included the drones into its SMAM scheme (Sub-mission On Agriculture Mechanization) which primarily deals with the mechanization of numerous agri process using tractors and other equipment. Furthermore, through the recent introduction of the NAMO Drone Didi Scheme, the Indian government will be offering around 15,000 drones at subsidized rates to women in rural areas and even train them to become drone pilots. This way, the government is playing a very pivotal role in encouraging the usage of drones for agricultural practices, especially in rural areas.

Although India is very strong in terms of capabilities and the talent required for manufacturing drones, it is still heavily reliant on other countries for raw materials such as semiconductor chips