India’s delivery firms are in the thick of the action at the moment, with people relying on them to make deliveries during the coronavirus outbreak, but they might soon get a whole new weapon in their arsenals — drones.
Dunzo and Bangalore-based drone maker Throttle Aerospace Systems have got approval from India’s civil aviation authority to test their drone deliveries. The two firms could begin testing their long-range delivery solutions by as early as late April. Consortiums led by these two firms have been the first to get the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) approval to conduct experimental Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations of remotely piloted aircraft, or drones. Apart from the two firms, the DGCA is likely to approve the applications of a further five consortiums, which include Nandan Nilekani-backed ShopX and Spicejet’s cargo unit SpiceXpress, to conduct long-range drone tests.
The move marks India’s first official attempt at allowing long-range drone flights, albeit at an experimental level. The country plans to use the learnings from these experimental drone operations to frame rules for BVLOS drone flights. The approvals come just days after the DGCA opened up the first six ‘green zones’ within which drone flights will be allowed to take place. Zones of five kilometre radius have been notified in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, after the DGCA received approvals from security agencies. India had come out with a comprehensive drone policy in December 2018, which regulates how drones will be allowed to fly through Indian skies.
There have been rumblings about the use of drones for deliveries in India for a while now. Back in 2018, Zomato had acquired a drone startup, and in June 2019 had announced that it had successfully tested its drone technology to make deliveries. “We met all our parameters and were able to cover a distance of 5kms, in about 10 minutes, with a peak speed of 80 kmph, carrying a payload of 5 kgs – using a hybrid drone – fusion of rotary wing and fixed wings on a single drone,”Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal had written in a blogpost.
It’s still unclear how long it will take before drone deliveries become a reality in India, but it could prove transformational for India’s delivery space. Deliveries that are either partially or fully completed by drones would likely be significantly faster than conventional deliveries, with delivery personnel not needing to make their ways through India’s gridlocked cities to fulfill orders. Drones could also help reduce the numbers of delivery personnel on Indian roads, and help ease traffic. It’s no wonder that several firms are currently engaged in trying to be the first to get their drones up in the skies, and if Dunzo does manage to start testing before its rivals, its drones could end up becoming a significant differentiator for the company in the years to come.