Waiting in the Wings

Waiting in the Wings

Frontier Tech

Ideaforge, which has made deep inroads into defence and police forces with its unmanned aerial vehicle system, NETRA, is now gearing up to serve public sector companies. The company’s secret sauce: its longevity; the company was started up long before drone technology became a buzzword.

Ankit Mehta, Co-Founder, Ideaforge

Ideaforge, which develops unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAVs), recently raised US $10 million in a Series A investment round led by US-based WRV Capital, IndusAge Partners, and Infosys, a strategic partner that will also help the company expand its market reach. The company, established in 2007 in Mumbai, had found early adoption of its systems in the defence forces mainly for patrolling. By 2013, a dozen or so systems had been installed. Today, this number – the number of installations in defence forces and equivalent areas –stands at 450.

The three wings of the forces, the police in many states, central police forces such as the CRPF and peace forces are already using the ‘NETRA’ range of aerial systems, with the option to customize the product as per a client’s needs.

More importantly, NETRA is now used for functions that go beyond patrolling; It was used during the Uttarakhand disaster, in Kumbha Mela for crowd management, for scouting in Naxalite areas, among others.

Amongst other industries, public sector units (PSUs) are taking the lead due to a comparatively favourable regulatory environment. NTPC, for instance, has placed an order, to use the system for analysis of land and spaces prior to deploying a power plant. Private sector is waiting for regulatory clearance to deploy unmanned aerial systems as of now, but there is a likelihood of it happening and Ideaforge is ready to take on the market then.

“I believe, industries are currently at a stage where the defence forces were in 2013, with regard to the use of the UAV systems. The defence began by using it for patrolling only, but now has expanded its use and found it to be a liberating experience, as it can integrate well with overall operations,” explains Ankit Mehta, co-founder of the company.


We have 16 variations for our NETRA platform to meet different needs and use cases of PSUs, defence and homeland security needs


Deploying the money raised

The company plans to use the funds raised for three main purposes. Product development is a critical area, as this is a nascent industry and needs much research and development. Some of the key areas of focus for Ideaforge are the processing of images, safety, endurance, performance, engineering and development. The company is constantly updating and improving its flagship product NETRA. In addition, it also leases out SkyPainters to do aerial survey for commercial use.

The second is business development, to expand its market. The company wants to be able to address the industrial segment, the moment it opens up for deploying unmanned aerial systems, apart from deepening its presence in the PSUs and defence related segments.

Related to this is scaling up of production, team building and training, which will depend on the first two. Currently the company employs 125 people in Navi Mumbai, Delhi and Jammu.

Growth and Vision

The company hopes to grow at a good pace in the coming three years as the new markets constrained by regulations is expected to open up soon. “Though there is competition, and legacy systems offer better price points, we believe there will always be a churn – opportunities will open up as newer technologies are introduced. Also, we have 16 variations for our platform to meet different needs/use cases, which works to our advantage,” explains Mehta.

Mehta also believes that Ideaforge has scope to expand globally. “We will start in geographies closer to home by this year,” he says. “Typically, companies in the US have moved away from hardware and are doing software and services, outsourcing manufacturing to China. But India also gives cost benefits, and we design and develop the entire product at competitive rates. So we expect that to work to our advantage,” he points out. Also, the company is vertically integrated with focused operations for in-house R&D, design, manufacturing, software, services and training operations. Ideaforge was founded in 2007, at a time when drones weren’t a buzzword. The company’s longevity is an aspect to admire, but more importantly, its overall operations complete with in-house manufacturing and R&D will serve it in good stead, as the private sector markets open up.


Problem

In case of emergencies, natural or manmade, human lives cannot be endangered to do damage assessment and/or decide on action to be taken

Solution

Unmanned aerial Vehicles or Drone technology comes in handy in such situations. The use cases of drone technology, especially in a defence context include: image stabilization, autonomous target tracking and day-night cameras which are programmed to provide real-time footage in real time. Ideaforge’s NETRAv2, a fully autonomous, man-portable micro UAV, was developed in collaboration with DRDO.


Growth in numbers In 2013 In 2017
Team Size 30 125
Markets Served Defence Defence, Central Police Forces, State police, disaster management, peace forces, PSUs
Access to capital Incubated at IIT Mumbai and IIM Ahmedabad Series A funding lead by WRV Capital, Indus Age Partners, and Infosys, as a strategic investor.

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.

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