This young entrepreneur built a drone startup to overcome healthcare connectivity barriers in remote areas
Vikram Singh Meena, founder of drone delivery startup TechEagle, grew up in a small, disconnected village called Kishanganj in the Tonk district of Rajasthan.
Growing up in a village with poor road connectivity, Vikram saw his family and the larger community suffer due to want of access to better medical facilities. Losing loved ones to snake bites and accidents, Vikram was determined that this is a problem he would solve one day.
And he did solve, by founding Gurugram-basedin 2015, which manufactures long range, high speed, heavy payload delivery Drone solutions.
Earlier this month, the on-demand delivery drone startup partnered with the Government of Himachal to conduct a proof of concept (PoC) for delivering medicines and vaccines from primary healthcare centres (PHCs) to sub-centres in Kullu district via the Hybrid e-VTOL Drone.
“Aerial routes are defying the limits of on-road transportations. With our made in India Hybrid e-VTOL Drone, we delivered medicines in Tirthan valley of Himachal from a Primary Health Centre to Sub Centre, with the Drone covering an aerial distance of 15km in less than 9 minutes. Road transport takes more than one hour,” says Vikram.
“We are building technology to make an incredible contribution in improving the supply chain. The utilisation of drone technology is resolving issues plaguing modern healthcare including overcoming the barriers of COVID-19 vaccine delivery in far-flung areas,” he adds.
The project was carried out by TechEagle’s made in India Hybrid e-VTOL Drone, also known as Vertical Take-Off and Landing Vehicle. It takes off vertically like a helicopter and converts itself automatically into fixed-wing (i.e. passenger aircraft) mode for travelling larger distances with greater speed. When it reaches the delivery locations, it converts itself back to helicopter mode to land in a very small area of 5m*5m. The advantage is that it can be operated in most of the geographies and terrains.
Call to adventure
“When I came to IIT-Kanpur in 2012, I was exposed to aviation as a hobby first. Early on in this journey, I developed drones and participated in national and international competitions. IIT-Kanpur gave me a good understanding of research and development and the operational aspects of drone manufacturing. I won many national and international awards,” reminisces Vikram.
In 2015, Vikram came upon a problem. He had to travel a distance of 100 kms between Kanpur and Lucknow for paperwork for his international trips.
“During this time, we were developing long range aircrafts at the IIT-Kanpur private airstrip. While sitting with my friends one day, we thought, why not send packages to Lucknow instead of travelling all the way. It sent me back to my childhood and I dug deep and realised what a big problem logistics can be, and not just in the healthcare sector,” Vikram recalls. “This is when I thought that I should get started because we have a big problem to solve, we have a solution, and we have the capability.”
Work so far
Founded in 2015 while Vikram was still a student, TechEagle is a Gurugram-based drone AI startup which builds end-to-end technology solutions for enabling a drone logistics airline for last-mile and mid-mile deliveries.
A third-year student, Vikram funded the company in its initial days with loans from family and friends. He started the company with 5 team members including interns.
“We were passionate engineers who were into Drone research and hobby, and we wanted to build a Drone logistics airline,” says Vikram.
The startup currently has a 5000 sqft manufacturing facility in Gurugram with over 15 team members, and is on a hiring spree. The company’s research and development team also has 12 members. When hiring, Vikram says he is on the look out for engineers who can match his passion for aviation, Drones and transforming the logistics.
TechEagle has received approvals from the Government of India (Ministry of Civil Aviation) and regulatory body Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to conduct package delivery BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) flights in different parts of India.
In 2018, TechEagle partnered with localised online food and meat delivery startup Online Kaka to deliver tea up to 10 km by drones in Lucknow.
“While this brought us into the spotlight and gave us good market exposure, the regulations were a problem at that time,” points out Vikram. “While the government was willing to listen, it was not for things like pizza deliveries back then. They were ready to lend us an ear for healthcare products, and many state governments requested the central government that they need services like these in hard-to-reach areas.”
Between 2018 and 2020, the drone startup worked to study regulations around the world to build that understanding into their designs.
In June 2021, the startup received official approvals to deliver vaccines and medicines supply in the State of Telangana using drones. This was done in collaboration with NITI Aayog, World Economic Forum and the Telangana government under its Medicines from the Sky project, where the government allowed for drugs and vaccines delivery using drones on a pilot basis in 16 green zones.
Safety and more
One of the key areas of importance while manufacturing these drones is safety. To achieve this , the company has built drones with precision navigation that detect and avoid for manned and unmanned aviation. The process also involves redundant communication, real-time monitoring, and autonomous parachute for ultimate failsafe, explains Vikram.
Real-time monitoring is a very important feature when dealing with medical supplies and vaccines, he adds.
In November 2021, TechEagle partnered with the Government of Meghalaya and Smart Village Movement (SVM) to carry out hybrid e-VTOL Drone delivery of lifesaving medicines. The collaboration was aimed at transforming the healthcare supply chain for the population in remote parts of the country.
In Meghalaya, the startup launched e-VTOL Aquila X2 to deliver medical essentials successfully to a 25km distance in less than 25 minutes.
According to Vikram, TechEagle maintains its competitive edge by securing intellectual property rights for its drone designs. He claims that the startup also has developed drones that can travel 100 km at the speed of 120km\hr, and can function between -15 degrees celsius to 60 degrees.
Diversification and looking ahead
While the startup’s major projects are from the healthcare sector, it is looking to diversify to include use cases in ecommerce, hyperlocal delivery, and defence.
TechEagle recently partnered with Addis Mercato, an Ethiopia-based ecommerce and logistics company to launch an innovative on-demand drone logistics network for delivering healthcare items and essentials in Ethiopia. The startup has also partnered with Kenya-based Astral Aviation to work in the GCC region.
“Till 2021, regulations were allowing very limited operations, mostly in less populated areas, so we focused on healthcare as a primary use case for our operations. But now, we are actively focusing on ecommerce, hyperlocal and maritime as well,” says Vikram.
The startup has also partnered with New Delhi-based freight forwarder Jeena Logistics for deliveries of medicines and reverse logistics.
“In the reverse logistics space, we will collect samples and bring them back to the central facility where that will be diagnosed. Today, the turnaround time after the sample collection from a remote location is around 72 hours. Our drones will help bring this time duration to 7-8 hours,” says Vikram. “This is just one part of how we are planning to transform the healthcare infrastructure in the country.”
The company has also run delivery trials with the Indian army in high altitude areas and is currently building advanced solutions to fit their requirements.
“Another market that we are hoping to enter is the maritime space because this is a technologically underserved area,” says Vikram.
In September 2021, TechEagle raised $500,000 in seed funding led by India Accelerator, with participation from Vinners Group, Sitics Logistics, and marquee angel investors. Anshu Abhishek joined the company as a Director in 2017 and was promoted to COO and Co-founder in 2020.
At the time of funding, India Accelerator co-founder Mona Singh said, "Our decision to accelerate and invest in TechEagle moves in the direction of helping companies build a global presence. 2022 will be the year in which the hockey-stick up-curve in large scale usage of drones in India will happen, upon the strong foundation of the Drones Rules 2021."