For three bright IITians sky was the limit of success in their individual career; they together instead have made limitless success in the sky. Shunning off big corporate dreams and lucrative careers, three IIT graduates joined hands to build Drona Aviation, a Mumbai based startup that is exploring the possibilities with drones in India.
Of its three founders namely, Prasanna, Apurva, and Dinesh, Prasanna is a Ph.D. student of IIT Mumbai, and it was primarily his concept to go ahead with a drone company. Dinesh is a 2014 graduate and Apurva is a 2008 graduate, both from IIT Mumbai.
Drone Aviation, a startup though, has eight long years of thoughts and efforts in the build up. While for Prasanna and Dinesh, it was a passion to do something innovative in the country, for Apurva, this urge was coupled with his strong repelling idea of working as an investment banker which he was in Hong Kong after graduating in 2008.
As destiny would have it, all three co-founders collaborated and were active in the working of drones for about eight years. The team used to participate in competitions and they also won several awards. This motivated them to go ahead and begin a drone company.
Finally, in 2014, they decided that they could start a drone aerial cinematography curvature company and made this their advertisement. During this time, three occurrences took place in India. The drone ban came in where microdrones were to be flown in the open air. DJI, a company, came up with an aerial cinematography drone. The situation was such that to be successful in an aerial cinematography company, there was no need to deeply understand technology. It was only essential to provide services. As they already had a stance of creating technology, they realized they can create a much larger company.
Due to the drone ban, the sole option before Drona Aviation was to build a drone for a Government use case. However, dealing with the Government demands a different skill level, and ‘Drona’ faced significant challenges. Now, the co-founders realized that there is a problem statement that they can understand very well and provide a clearer solution. India has very few drone platforms that allowed others to learn easily, prototype ideas, and make mistakes. For a drone workshop, low-cost and robust drones were not available. The drones that were available were very expensive, fragile, and very difficult to program. Consequently, a college program or a workshop was a tough task with the existing drones. Here, they concluded that this was where they should focus on. After all, drone applications was a 127 billion USD industry, and India was a big market for this.
India had two choices: to import solutions from outside India or to develop solutions indigenously. They opted for the second path less travelled by as yet. They built an ecosystem that would enable more people to learn, experiment, and innovate with the drone. Their ‘Pluto’ platform has been designed to facilitate this aim. While they are working around this aim, TIE Pune has been providing them mentorship and advice since the past two years.
The co-founders are continuously making students of all ages conversant with the drone. They are helping them build and fly drones. They have created a DIY page on their website. Till date, they have about 4,000 students in India. Along with their partners, they have provided drone training to about 30,000 Indians. They have created material for learning and experiment and share it freely across the world. Their long-term aim is that after spreading the knowledge of drones, learners should shoot up innovative ideas.
In November 2015, they began work on the Pluto platform, which they completed in January 2016. Now, they have come up with PlutoX, which is an enhanced version. The latter has all the robust features of Pluto and additionally, it has an integrated camera to take photos and videos and do image processing. Also, customers can add new hardware and sensors and convert it into a robot. The co-founders intend to launch PlutoX on 1 August 2018, which will be a global campaign.
As for their outlook, in India, the drone application industry will first become a service industry. So far, Drona Aviation has several customers who have dived into aerial cinematography, drone racing, land surveying, agriculture, and innovations on the Drona platform. One of the highlights of Drona is the KFC drone/KFO. Here, KFC used the Drona platform with a KFC frame, which got global coverage. Also, Drona deployed its drones in 300 Indian schools. Drona collaborated with IIT Mumbai, which deployed the Drona drones across colleges in e-Yantra labs. Presently, Drona has a robust India presence, and now, the company aims to expand on the global scenario.
Apurva wants to share his advice with start-ups and budding entrepreneurs in India that they should regularly interact with customers to understand the problems and then resolve them. By this way, they can build a robust business. For startups, getting investors initially is very tough, which can become easy later. Apurva says that he worked by this method and his experience with Drona Aviation has been very fulfilling.
Apurva’s future plans are to start with export-compliant Pluto and PlutoX platforms. He wants to get the Pluto certification in three months. Drona has planned the delivery of PlutoX in the final quarter of 2018. They plan to launch a crowd-funding campaign in August for the same. Drona’s aim is that Indian students can build use cases on these platforms and create Indian success stories that reach across the entire world. Drona will continue creating platforms and ecosystems that nurture drone innovators. The company wants to reach to 50,000 developers in the world who would work on these platforms. Drona intends to hire an R&D team to increase its training content. In tune with its core aim of creating more innovators in the drone world, Drona Aviation plans to expose 1,000,000 Indian students to its platforms.
Surely, Drona soars higher and higher reaching new heights; sky is the limit for them.
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