13 Jan Drones World Editor Kartikeya In conversation with Mr. Ankit Kumar.
Mr Ankit Kumar, the power that’s driving the successful firm, Alternative Global. How did your professional career begin? How did Alternative Global achieve the heights it is now at?
I incepted Alternative Global 4.5 years back with the focus to become the leading consulting in the EV and Drone industry. At that time, EV and Drones were at a very nascent stage. We built a very solid and professional team, kept on working in the niche to provide opportunities to companies in the domain for successful ventures. As the industry picked up, we started gaining better momentum and soon became a renowned and trustworthy name in the market.
Alternative Global today is the name for Go-to-Market for any new venture entering into the EV or Drone space or expanding to the Indian market. We are working with over 100 companies globally on multiple fronts and in a way, lead the overall segment. The core focus at Alternative Global has always been to work in the futuristic domain. We are present in 4 countries now – India, USA, UK, and Israel. Recently started investing in tech companies in the EV and Drone space too and foresee these two sectors to grow exponentially in the next 4-5 years.
What are the sectors that you are currently serving and what are the services that you are offering in the Drone segment?
Alternative Global is involved in the whole drone ecosystem. We help drone companies with technology tie-ups and collaborations from across the globe to expand footprint, work with regulators closely providing inputs where required, and help end-user companies and state governments create a strategic roadmap for using drones for deliveries in health logistics, e-commerce logistics, and food logistics followed by conducting PoC trials. Unlike survey & inspection, surveillance, imaging, etc., the drone delivery vertical is still in a nascent stage in India and even in other countries, but has a compelling case of changing the way deliveries can be carried out in the future after BVLOS regulations are in place. Health logistics makes an immediate use-case for a country like India where many of the rural and remote areas lack the necessary healthcare facilities and we expect many of the state governments will be looking at this to extend the reach of medicines, vaccines, and blood to poorly connected villages and PHCs. AGI is working with many companies and state governments to establish PoC for healthcare supplies delivery that, in time, can be scaled into a commercially viable business model.
With DGCA giving nod to BVLOS test flights, a few consortiums started their experimental delivery flights. Could you give us an insight into one such consortium, Dunzo Air?
As of now, DGCA has permitted 100 hrs BVLOS trials to 20 consortiums. Dunzo Air Consortium was the first one to get approval from DGCA on Feb 20 but due to lockdown, the trials couldn’t be started.
Subsequently, in August, all consortia participating in these trials have been asked to obtain MHA clearance. We intend to start the trials as soon as MHA clearance is received. We are ready.
Dunzo is a very forward-looking organization with an intent to experiment with new technologies and leverage it if it makes business sense. AGI had been asked by Dunzo to create and manage a consortium of companies and individuals bringing together different expertise to conduct BVLOS trials for delivery use-cases. We have brought together the world’s leading UTM provider AirMap, Skye Air – a company focused on drone deliveries and operations, Vodafone as MNO partner, AutomicroUAS as Safety Expert, and TropoGo as the Insurance Partner. We are creating a strategic roadmap for drone inclusion in the given future.
When do you think the last-mile deliveries in India would be happening with drones?
MoCA, DGCA and AAI are very proactively working on enabling the drone regulations on the war footing, if I may say so. Mr Ambar Dubey, Jt. Secretary, MoCA has often spoken at multiple forums that for the government, the priority sectors for drones enablement are ADHL (Agriculture, Disaster Relief, Healthcare, Logistics). Already drone standards and certifications are in place that will ensure product Certification under ISO 17065 and Criteria developed by QCI. With initiatives like Digital Sky, UTM Policy and CAR 2.0 will all bring ease of approvals, operation, and clarity for the widespread use of drones commercially in the coming years.
Companies in different verticals are gearing up to use drone technology for their benefit in terms of efficiency, accuracy, and cutting down in time and cumbersome processes that are to be undertaken with the earlier available solutions.
Though VLOS operations are on and BVLOS trials are permitted on a conditional basis, we can expect the operations taking place once CAR 2.0 regulations are in place, air tunnels defined – from the long-distance pipeline and road inspections to medicine, vaccine & blood deliveries in remote and rural areas with poor connectivity, faster response time during disasters – the scope is limitless.
Companies in healthcare logistics, e-commerce logistics, food logistics, and many state governments are already ready to establish their use-cases by conducting pilots and we at AGI are really excited to help such companies and state governments with a detailed roadmap preparing these companies to be ready when the regulations permit. Telangana state with WEF has already floated an EoI to establish PoC for medicines, vaccines, and blood deliveries between District Hospital and PHCs and we hope that it will soon get the necessary clearances and approvals from DGCA and AAI to proceed before the end of the year. A successful PoC would then lead to a wider implementation across the state, benefiting countless villagers, generating employment, and faster delivery of treatment.
Any new technology takes time to get implemented through the wider spectrum. Last Mile Deliveries will also happen, but at a later stage, after regulators get confidence, operators gain experience, and the required infrastructure gets built.
Initially, the deliveries would begin from the Hub-to-Hub model and then this may get extended to last-mile deliveries gradually. However, there are plenty of opportunities for the companies and drone operators in Hub-to-Hub deliveries that will help improve the operations of these companies.
Could you share something about your partnership with Incisive Law? How important is it for UAV firms to have a legal advisor by their side in the emerging space of Drone tech?
Drones are still an emerging technology with rapidly changing regulations and capabilities.
Regardless of the application, the central issue remains: How will the laws be interpreted and applied in this uncharted territory? Given the ambiguities in the law, which had no warning of this technological development, the brave new world of drones has spawned a legal niche. The niche will eventually become as large as aviation law because the widespread use of drones significantly exceeds the sphere of drone manufacturers or operators.
Drones have the potential to be disruptive technologies across a range of sectors and thus, businesses need to not only have a good commercial strategy, but it also means they need to take good care of compliance matters as the regulatory and reputational consequences of failing to do so can be severe. Being such a novel technology, regulations are changing at pace and it can be difficult to keep up with this rate of change.
Professional advice can help the players within the drone-tech space stay one step ahead of the game as the market evolves. In this respect, the partnership between AGI and Incisive becomes paramount. While AGI can advise the industry players on the commercial and operational side of things, Incisive Law LLC has significant experience in understanding and advising clients within the regulatory framework of the UAV industry and with both entities’ presence in multiple jurisdictions, the AGI/Incisive collaboration is in a unique position to advise our clients on a multitude of issues under a single framework.
Where do you see the drone and EV markets heading globally? Is the case similar in the Indian subcontinent as well?
The ball has just started rolling for these two sectors and it will only expand. The drone sector holds tremendous opportunities and has the potential to contribute four to five per cent to India’s GDP. A recent report by the FICCI and Ernst & Young noted that the drone market in India will touch $885.7 million by 2021 when the global market size will be $21.47 billion (so only 3.8%). Another international report says that India will be by far the fastest-growing commercial drone market in the world, by 2024 becoming the 3rd largest commercial drone market. The global drone market is estimated to grow from USD 14 billion in 2018 to over USD 43 billion in 2024 at a CAGR of 20.5%. So there is tremendous growth potential and like any other new technology, it will go through the typical curve starting from early adopters, maturing into a stable usage with widespread usage.
We are already seeing a growing adaptation in the EV sector in India and across the world. While China, Europe, and the USA are leading in this, with the aggressive policy push by the central and state governments we are now seeing a significant movement in India’s EV sector.
Though currently, many players are jumping into the EV segment, we feel, during the course of the next few years there will be a consolidation and weeding out of non-serious players. The true potential of EV & Drones will be seen once Indian companies get into backward integration from assembling the imported components to component-level manufacturing and then we can really claim to be “Atmanirbhar Bharat” and be the hub for the world’s manufacturing and compete with China.
What segments of the Drone industry do you think are going to see significant developments in the next 5-10 years?
Besides Inspection & Survey, that is already happening, surveillance, transportation, and Agricultureverticals hold a high promise. The drone logistics and transportation market is estimated to be USD 11.20 Billion in 2022 and is projected to reach USD 29.06 Billion by 2027, at a CAGR of 21.01% from 2022 to 2027. The <10kg (Delivery Drones) segment is estimated to lead the drone logistics and transportation market in 2022. I think there will also be a big demand for integration of AI, Blockchain, and other software solutions in each of the drone-related verticals and would be a good place to be for companies in IT.
Another emerging sector is UAM (Urban Air Mobility) which will change the way people travel in the next 5~10 years. Many companies across the world are working on this and already successful trials have been conducted by Volocopter and a few others. Indian companies are not far behind and already working on prototypes of UAM vehicles. UAM will require a whole new way of thinking in terms of regulations, safety aspects, and the support infrastructure.
Do you have any advice for the emerging drone firms in getting the most out of their investment?
Our view and advice to the emerging drone companies are that instead of looking at everything through the lens of technology, become a solution-centric entity. Technology is a tool and drone is only a platform.
Only when you solve a real problem or a pain-point of the user then one can expect success. Often, entrepreneurs fall so much in love with the technology that they start solving imagined problems instead of the real problem and then wonder why they are not getting the traction, even with a lot of admiration for their technology. The other area the companies should focus on the quality of their products and services – don’t be known for your products because these are cheap but be known for providing value for money.