[Deeptech Innovator] How IdeaForge drones are helping solve pandemic complexities

IdeaForge today solves for Covid19, is involved in military logistics and associated with Survey of India. Read on to know how they do it all and the barriers they navigate.

Built like a bird, tested like a tank. The message runs clear with IdeaForge. Founded by Ankit Mehta and his fellow IIT alumni, IdeaForge has come a long way since its inception in 2008.

IdeaForge’s founder Mehta began by building unmanned configuration drone independently and by participating in competitions, while at IIT. The team later won a competition alongside MIT, thereby instilling confidence in the product. The 2008 gruesome terrorist attacks in Mumbai moved the founder and made him ponder on the role the drone tech could’ve played in nullifying the danger. That acted as a catalyst and in 2009 the team developed the first fully operational, application-specific product.

Another interesting fact: If you remember Aamir Khan’s movie, 3 idiots, the drone developed by a character Joy Lobo, played by Ali Fazal, at the fictional imperial College of Engineering was that of IdeaForge.

Solving for Covid19:

In 2020, India announced a major lockdown to tackle the pandemic and maintain social distancing to reduce the burden on healthcare infrastructure. In the meantime, police and law enforcement were deployed for execution and monitoring. IdeaForge partnered with the law enforcement to deploy drones in almost in 10 states to get a bird’s eye view of the lockdown implementation.

In the similar vein, IdeaForge deployed megaphone drones to help police officers monitor lockdown without being infected. The megaphone drone, spots a crowd, is flown to the position and amplifies the voice with instructions to maintain social distance. This ensures the police to be in the safe zone.

Deploying for military logistics:

IdeaForge worked with the Indian Navy, Army, and Air Force, understood the use cases and developed products with them post the challenges in LAC. Kruthi A, marketing lead at IdeaForge explains that the drones are capable of being deployed in a wide range of temperatures and versatile terrains. “Our drones have the capability to be deployed at Siachen and at Sundarbans, and can operate in a temperature range of -20 to 50 degree Celsius,” she says.

Solving for enterprises:

IdeaForge also has forayed into services for enterprises. The major sectors that the company has tapped into are surveying and mapping. It also delves into urban planning, volumetric estimation, 3D modelling of bauxite mines, railway crack mapping, to name a few. For instance, it the latter project to build a railway track, the drone is flown to map the area, evaluate the progress of the project with screenshots of the surveyed area and check week on week progress of its completion.

One major project tapped by IdeaForge was in association with the Survey of India wherein the need was to map 6000 villages. It was earlier done manual and later with satellite mapping, both of which aren’t quite accurate. These maps are needed by the revenue department for tax collections, dispute management, etc. Kruthi says, “Our drone mapping gives a high centimeter-level precision, and helps one get more accurate measures of these lands. SOI procured our drones for this, thereby making this one of the largest use cases.”

Other areas where IdeaForge has put its expertise to good use is mapping of agricultural land records, drainage network for irrigation planning and topographic map. It is also used to monitor crop health—using payloads can map the area of crops that need some attention.

Is the flight that smooth?

Kruthi explains the technical challenges include build the entire software all on own as it was one of its kind when conceived. As opposed to now there is enough and more content online.

“Once the product was ready, there were a lot of processes involved in terms of validation, testing, certifications for the same. There were no standard labs or processes back then. We had to work with the customer on understanding the exact use case and operational environment that we need to be operated on. We had to also come up with reliability metrics and ensure that our drones can operate in those specific countries and their respective environments.”

The businesses challenges Kruthi says pertain to the Indian VC ecosystem, “There isn’t much experience or appetite for hardware startups, and is primarily driven by strong procurement processes, etc.

Also the regulatory landscape consistently keeps changing and you have to align your product and business to ensure it matches with the regulations.”

Future of drone tech in India:

One of the major challenges plaguing drone tech today is the highly regulated environment which is also ambiguous in its terms, states Kruthi.

“We’ve already gone through the cycle. This in turn affects things like investments where in investors want to play safe and wouldn’t want to invest in technologies that are currently not regulated or are ambiguous.

For the evolving regulatory landscape there should be active committees and groups working on the speed at which the tech is growing,” she concludes.

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