Made in India drones for defence and other industries

N. Ramakrishnan

Shark Tank Season 2 featured VIT alumni’s start-up insideFPV aims to tap the global market too

Arth Chowdhary had an abiding interest in aircraft, right from his school days. When he joined VIT for his mechanical engineering degree, he turned his attention to designing and making drones for various applications. He then teamed up with batchmates Oshi Kumari, who was also studying mechanical engineering, and Deyvant Bhardwaj, an Electrical & Electronics Engineering student, to start insideFPV Ventures Pvt. Ltd., to make drones. The start-up got incubated at VIT TBI (Technology Business Incubator), which helped them realise their passion for making drones in India for various applications.

Incorporated in October 2021, insideFPV – FPV stands for First Person View – is a deep tech drone company that serves different segments such as defence, agriculture and general consumers. The company has now moved out of VIT TBI and is based in Surat, Gujarat, with an office in Chennai. The FPV technology, says Chowdhary, enables one to fly a drone sitting at his or her space and monitor the drone’s flight through goggles. A camera on board the drone helps in the navigation.

According to him, the help provided by VIT TBI was immense in terms of starting and growing the venture, connections to experts and to potential investors, and in getting Government of India grants. While Chowdhary is the CEO of the company, Kumari is the COO and Bhardwaj the CTO.

He points out that India is still an emerging drone industry that requires a lot of capital expenditure to make the components. The company designs the components, gets them manufactured on contract, assembles them and integrates the whole thing with its software.

insideFPV, according to him, has started selling drones for defence applications in India for surveillance purposes. This is a major milestone in the young start-ups journey. It was the border skirmishes with China and the continuing tensions that underlined the need for a vibrant domestic drone industry, one that was not dependent on either China or other countries to make drone parts and drones. The venture capitalised on this and decided to address the defence use case on a priority basis. Given the security issues involved, insideFPV put in place specific teams for the defence sector. It came up with different types of drones for defence applications, including those that can be piloted remotely from far-off places, says Chowdhary.

According to him, the company sold over 770 drones last year and has a capacity to make around 2,000 drones. The capability of the drones is measured in terms of the distance they can fly or the payload, depending on the application. For the agriculture sector, the drones can carry up to 20 kg or 20 litres of payload. These drones are meant to help in precision farming, enabling farmers to spray the right quantity of pesticides or fertilisers in a particular portion of the farm, depending on what is needed. The drones used in defence applications can fly up to 12 km in distance and up to a height of 400 feet, he adds.

For the consumer segment, the drones are used by movie directors, Bloggers, Vloggers, students for stem education, cinematographers. Movie directors, who would like to get a different perspective of the location in which they are shooting a scene, or cinematographers to capture details that would have not been possible otherwise. Bloggers shoot videos to post on YouTube or other social media channels, according to Chowdhary. The drones are sturdy and can be operated by even children, he adds. For instance, he says, “even if you crash a drone several times, nothing will happen to it.”

Chowdhary asserts that there is a global market for their products, which they hope to tap next year. To begin with, insideFPV will target the Gulf region before venturing into other countries. The company, he adds, has been profitable from the first year. It has so far raised ₹10 lakhs in grant funding and about ₹3.85 crore in equity from investors such as Mumbai Angels, Inflection Point Ventures, Soonicorn Ventures and DLabs.

The 23-year-old Chowdhary says the biggest challenge he will face as he looks to scale up operations and go global will be in hiring the right talent. This is a huge issue, he adds. Another issue that he will have to grapple with as the company grows is in manufacturing drone parts to top-class global standards and yet at an affordable price. For this to happen, the culture of precision manufacturing of drone parts has to permeate to all levels, he adds.

Just a little over two years old, insideFPV has won numerous national and international accolades. It was featured in Shark Tank India Season 2. As the company scales up operations, it will also commensurately grow the team size from the current level of 50 employees, says Chowdhary. (EOM).