From being a figment of a science fiction writer’s imagination just a few years ago, today, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become a reality. A handful of Indian startups are working on specialised UAVs that can be deployed for everything from disaster management and crop monitoring to land surveys and aerial photography.
Aarav Unmanned Systems (AUS), a YourStory Tech 30 company, is part of this select group of young startups building UAV technology in the country. Others include Drona Aviation, Edall Systems, AirPix, Skylark UAVs, and Eazypilot. Kanpur-based AUS provides faster and more cost-effective UAV-based land surveying solutions for the civil engineering and utility industries. The company is incubated at the SIDBI Innovation and Incubation Centre (SIIC) at IIT-Kanpur.
Co- founders — Nikhil Upadhye, Suhas Banshiwala and Vipul Singh — represented their college, IIT-Kanpur, at the Systems Engineering Awards competition organised by NASA in 2013. They had to design a UAV based on certain weight and payload specifications. The same year, the trio founded AUS.
While in the US for the competition, they noticed there was much more awareness about UAV technology there when compared to India, and realised how extensively UAVs were being used for recreational purposes.
Yeshwanth Reddy, 25, who joined the startup full-time as a Co-founder in 2014, says, “After a lot of brainstorming on possibilities versus fantasies, and a lot of technical scribbles, we were convinced that the utilisation of UAVs for engineering applications was the future of this technology. This was the point when we started working on building technology for 3D mapping and geographical information system surveying.”
A common interest in aero-modeling and robotics bonds the AUS team.
“The team is a perfect blend of skills required and are aligned with a common vision,” says Yeshwanth.
Nikhil, formerly a student-developer at the ‘Google Summer of Code’ programme, directs image processing, software development, controls and embedded systems at AUS. Suhas, who directs navigation, control systems and technology development, has been involved in robotics from his days as a student, and has previously worked with Flipkart as an analyst. Vipul joined IIT-Kanpur as a Research Associate in UAV development and directs systems engineering, sales, marketing and business development. Yeshwanth completed his M.Tech in Aerospace Engineering from IIT-Bombay after graduating from Amity University.
Vipul is the common thread that binds them all. He studied with Yeshwanth at Amity University and met Nikhil and Suhas when he began working as a Research Associate at IIT-Kanpur.
Using photogrammetry, which is the use of photography to glean information like measurement and distances to generate accurate and detailed Digital Elevation Models or 3D representations of the terrain surface, can transform and change the way decisions are made in multiple sectors. This is where UAVs or UAVs will be useful.
Imagine having to construct a bridge in hilly terrain. The first step is to understand the region or topography. Usually, this is done using GPS mapping—a time-consuming and cumbersome process. The decision maker who requires the data is often not an engineer, but someone who relies on engineers to look at the data. UAV technology would not only allow this decision maker to have access to visuals of the topography, but the data collated by the UAV would allow him to have a 3D rendering of the topography, which would allow for better and more informed decision-making than ever before, all from the comfort of his office. This increases precision in decision-making and saves time.
AUS has an all-in product called Nayan, which is a high-performance quadrotor for developers and researchers. However, Nayan is not AUS’s main product. GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping and precision agriculture are the main applications they are targeting. They have the prototype ready and the product will be out soon.
“Currently, these applications are served using land-based systems, which are slow, terrain-restricted, and not extensive. We just moved these things from land to air,” says Yeshwanth.