When Drones Meet Generative AI 

LLMs can act as an impactful bridge between the machine and the human behind that machine

Large Language Models (LLMs) have proven to be revolutionary and are finding use cases in most industries. These models have a lot of potential in the drones industry as well. Aereo (previously known as Aarav Unmanned Systems), an end-to-end drone solutions startup, is exploring this potential.

In an exclusive interview with Analytics India Magazine, Vipul Singh, chief executive and co-founder at Aereo, said, “Generative AI will have a significant role to play in case of drones because all the inputs you give are manual at this point of time. So, it can act as a rather impactful bridge between the machine and the human behind that machine,” he said.

As of now, Aereo is exploring the potential uses of the technology. “We have a few things planned out. But again, it is all experimental at this point in time.” Singh is hopeful that very soon an intersection of both the technologies [drones and GenAI] will be established, but details on when and how remain sketchy right now.

Currently, Aereo is using AI/ML in a very limited way. The company uses machine learning algorithms to extract certain features and outputs from the data collected by the drones. “We are building our extensive pipeline at this point of time,” said Singh.

One of the first 

Founded in IIT Kanpur in 2013, Aereo was one of the first to identify the potential of drones and its different applications. “In the early stages of drone development around 2012-13, the primary focus was on defence-related applications. However, we recognised the potential of drones, similar to other technologies that originated in defence, for example-satellite maps, telecommunication or even aircraft. We saw that drones will also emerge eventually and start playing a very important role for businesses and as well as the lives of common people,” Singh said.

Today, Aereo is also one of the six drone manufacturers in India incentivised by the PLI scheme. So far, it has also filed for 15 patents (1 granted) and has a lot of other Intellectual property generated in the form of designs, registrations and trademarks. “We have been doing a good amount of deep tech work in terms of hardware, software, data analytics. So it’s a multidisciplinary subject which we deal with.”

Aereo currently manufactures two types of drones – multicopter and hybrid – designed specifically for mapping and surveying. These drones are ‘decently’ autonomous, according to Singh. “This means there is no active joystick-based piloting required.” The multicopter bird called Aereo INP, covers about 250 acres and single flight of 40 minutes.

The drone has been utilised to map villages situated at high altitudes ranging from 4,500 to 5,000 metres above sea level in the hilly regions of Uttarakhand. It is currently being employed to map villages in Rajasthan. This versatile drone has proven its capability to withstand harsh conditions of both extremely cold and windy hilly areas as well as the scorching hot desert regions.

According to Singh, around 60-70% of the components for the drones are sourced from India. Whereas the remaining parts are imported from countries such as the US, Taiwan, Korea and China because they are still not manufactured in India. Besides, the technology in terms of hardware and software are all proprietary. “No other company in the market right now in India has this technology as a proprietary technology.  They are buying OEM solutions from outside India and integrating with their existing drones,” Singh said.

Mapping India 

Currently, Aereo caters to the needs of various public and private sector players. It provides a bundle solution, which includes a drone along with a specifically embedded cloud platform on which the data can be processed, analysed and reported. What the customer also gets is a drone pilot, who has been specifically trained to not only just fly the drone but manage the project at the site.

Currently, Aereo is one of the largest contributors to the SVAMITVA scheme. Under this, it has mapped close to 42,000 villages in India. “We have mapped 7 million acres, comprising more than 500 opencast mines, and more than 50 cities” Singh said. Additionally, the company is helping various state governments digitise their land records. “For Survey of India, in Haryana, we mapped about 28,000 square kilometres in 12 months. We have also mapped around 10,000 square kilometres in Andhra Pradesh and currently, are mapping an area of 60,000 square kilometres for the Karnataka government.”

Besides, Aereo has worked with PSUs like Coal India and NTPC. “We won one about a million dollar contract from Coal India for digitising the entire mining process using drones dataset for seven largest coal mines in the country.” Aereo also works with many private companies, most notably Adani, Tata Steel, Hindalco, and JSW. Aereo is helping Adani monitor the construction progress of India’s largest solar power plant coming up in Gujarat. Similarly, for Tata Steel, Aereo is helping assess operational efficiency, environmental impact, and optimise productivity across their various mining and manufacturing locations.

Training youths in rural India 

Currently, one of the most significant challenges Aereo is encountering is the scarcity of sufficient manpower to fulfil these needs. Singh said that drones have just started to catch up as a mainstream industry and there is no academic curriculum except at IIT Kanpur, which has just introduced one master’s programme in UAVs. 

In India, although students are being educated on building aircraft and rockets, there is a notable absence of a curriculum focused on drone building. This omission has a significant impact on the industry. According to Singh. “It takes a lot of time for us to convert someone into a productive manpower after we hire them as a fresher.”

To tackle this, Aereo signed an MoU with  SJC Institute of Technology to open a Centre of Excellence. “We felt that it is our responsibility as a company to share our requirements and also help create a curriculum which can ensure that when people go through that curriculum, they are ready to serve in a fast-paced technical ecosystem.”

Through the programme, Aereo wants to train the youth, especially in rural parts of the country, and in turn, provide them with employment opportunities. “The aim is to train somewhere between 400-500 drone pilots every year,” Singh concluded.  

Pritam Bordoloi
I have a keen interest in creative writing and artificial intelligence. As a journalist, I deep dive into the world of technology and analyse how it’s restructuring business models and reshaping society.

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