Drones take business intelligence notches higher

By: | Published: February 26, 2017 6:45 AM

In the aftermath of Cyclone Vardah, a leading insurance company in Chennai decided to go for an unusual method to vet some damage claims for insurance by an information technology park near the city’s coast.

‘Most drone companies in India use two kinds of UAVs — a vertical take-off quadcopter or a fixed wing drone. A basic drone costs approximately Rs 1.5 lakh.’

In the aftermath of Cyclone Vardah, a leading insurance company in Chennai decided to go for an unusual method to vet some damage claims for insurance by an information technology park near the city’s coast. Instead of sending insurance claim handlers into dangerous, disaster-afflicted areas, the company opted for a drone’s-eye view to collect relevant proof and data.

“We did a POC (proof of claim) for the insurance company in Chennai. The IT park had sustained a lot of damage due to the high-speed winds of the cyclone. The insurance company needed to collect the data in a quick manner because for each day that business was not happening at the IT park, the loss and claim for insurance kept increasing,” says Jaspreet Makkar, founder, WeDoSky, a New Delhi-based drone-data analytics solution company.

If the insurance firm had counted on manpower to survey the damage, the procedure would have taken a week, not to forget the risks involved. With the help of WeDoSky’s drones and data analysis platform, the results were out in just 36 hours, with no risk involved.

“In the insurance sector, drones can quickly scan a very large area and give pictorial evidence of damage to a site or property. More importantly, they are able to reach places where humans can’t reach due to disasters,” Makker adds. WeDoSky has so far completed more than 400 projects — ranging from aerial photography to aerial data analysis — across India since its inception three years ago.

Gone are the days when spotting a drone filming the proceedings of a lavish Indian wedding was anything novel. From film-making to farming and insurance claims to asset inspection, companies in India and across the world are now realising the commercial viability of using drones, which have suddenly become the key to making crucial business decisions with their ability for business intelligence.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, are now being used across multiple industries such as infrastructure, agriculture, mining and renewable energy, to name a few. Retrofitted with various cameras and sensors, drones capture aerial data, which is then analysed. Based on the analysis and results, companies can alter their project designs, monitor work progress and keep a check on critical assets. They are not only saving time and lowering cost of labour, but are much more efficient.

The demand for drones is not restricted to a few sectors only. Solar power firms have been using them for pre-installation surveys and asset safety. Telecom firms in India and abroad have been using UAVs to conduct aerial inspections of their cellular towers. American telecom giant AT&T, for instance, has been using drones for cell tower inspections and to find birds’ nests that could affect cell coverage. The Chinese have deployed them for search and rescue missions after earthquakes. The list is endless.

These eyes in the sky have also received backing from prominent government functionaries in India. In January, power minister Piyush Goyal tweeted a picture of drones being used by the Mineral Exploration Corporation in Odisha for geological exploration. “A lot of big organisations such as the Indian Railways, Coal India, GAIL, DMICDC and some states have already taken steps towards using drones for addressing their business needs. A lot of private companies are also considering buying drones and developing in-house resources to use them,” says Shinil Shekhar, co-founder, AIRPIX, a Navi Mumbai-based drone solutions provider.

Meanwhile, state-run Power Grid Corporation (PGCIL) has been using drones for the line surveillance (tower top patrolling) of the 500-kV Ballia-Bhiwadi high-voltage direct-current line since April last year. Purchased from authorised drone vendors in India, these UAVs are equipped with gimbal-mounted ultra high-definition video cameras, which can capture close, HD photographs and video of towers to detect any fault or defects. “The adoption of drones has provided a cost-effective solution for the inspection and maintenance of transmission lines. Earlier, inspection of the upper portion of towers required personnel to climb towers under live-line condition. Now, that need to climb has been eliminated. The timely detection and rectification of defects through drones has helped Power Grid in avoiding breakdown of the line and maintaining uninterrupted flow of power,” said a PGCIL spokesperson.

Most drone companies in India use two kinds of UAVs — a vertical take-off quadcopter or a fixed wing drone. A basic drone costs approximately R1.5 lakh. When it is modified for business projects, attachments such as thermal cameras and sensors can take the price of a drone up to R10 lakh.

The situation here is just one frame of a bigger picture. Globally, drone numbers are expected to reach exponential figures this year. IT research and advisory company Gartner says almost 3 million personal and commercial drones will be shipped in 2017.

According to a new forecast, the production of drones is growing at such a speed that global market revenue is expected to increase 34% to reach more than $6 billion in 2017. By 2020, it will grow to more than $11.2 billion.

The market for commercial drones, as per Gartner, is much smaller, as compared to personal drones. However, with more countries solidifying their drone regulations, the market is beginning to stabilise. “Commercial drones normally have a higher payload, longer flight times, and redundant sensors and flight controllers to make them safer,” the forecast adds.

Earlier, drones had become a popular and affordable options for personal consumers. Some even considered them the next best option after smartphones for pictures and entertainment. Yet such is its commercial appeal that even personal drone vendors are now trying their luck in the commercial market.

“It’s a brilliant market, which is here to stay. Take mining, for instance. With drones, you are not only getting aerial images, but volumetric data and analysis that can fix issues like land encroachment. Today, the drone is just a tool to gather data. They are getting cheaper by the day. The number of drones and pilots in the country has also gone up. That is not the expensive bit. Ironically, analysis of the data gathered by drones costs more than the physical infrastructure,” says Rahat Kulshreshtha, CEO & founder, Mumbai-based Quidich Aerial Solutions, which has handled inspection work for industrial clients and film-making projects.

Makker, of WeDoSky, says earlier people and companies were just excited to see these machines flying around. This was followed by a phase where drones were seen as a utility device for photography. Now, companies have realised that drones are essential business tools.

“I think in the next five years, drones will be omnipresent,” says Makker.

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