surveillance drone picks up some movement along the line of control triggering an alarm at the command centre. The commander in charge, en route a meeting, receives an alert on his mobile. He manoeuvres the drone from his mobile to zoom in for a closer look at the half a dozen infiltrators lurking in the dark. His instructions are unequivocal: take no prisoners. At his farm office in an east African country, a shrimp farm keeper is busy overseeing shrimps across 40 ponds, each half a kilometre wide. He receives an alert on his mobile. A drone has picked up discolouration of water in one of the ponds. A polluted pond means a whole batch of shrimp will perish and the discolouration is a precursor to that. The alert may yet help him save the batch of shrimps. At work in both instances is Asteria Aerospace, a little-known drone maker with its digs in a nondescript office at Indiranagar in east Bengaluru. Its claim to (potential) fame? Its team of 65 engineers is only one of two drone companies in India building both the physical structure of the drone and the software stack to manage a fleet, command and control it in-house. Most drone makers in India license the flight controller, which is to a drone what the autopilot system is to an aircraft or the engine control unit to a car, from global companies such as DJI and ArduPilot. The odd company such as Navstik Labs, backed by Reliance Industries, has its own flight controller but not drones. Having in-house both the flight controller and the physical structure helps with the customised use of drones for a wide range of applications. The only other Indian drone maker that can claim in-house hardware and software stack capabilities in-house is Mumbai-based IdeaForge, funded for Rs 70 crore. IdeaForge, perhaps the best known Indian drone company, has built its own flight controller after years of offering services based on control modules licensed from elsewhere. Asteria, started up in 2012 by aerospace engineers Neel Mehta and Nihar Vartak with past avatars at Rockwell Collins, Boeing, and Accenture, is bootstrapped. The company’s product line-up includes Cygnus, a fixed-wing drone; multi-rotor drone A400; and Genesis, its software stack for drone control and fleet management. Asteria’s current clientele include Indian paramilitary agencies, state police forces, and international companies with plans for a product focussed on industrial applications. The hardware+software edge Asteria has two drones in its arsenal, the fixed-wing drone Cygnus and the multi-rotor drone A400. The company got its first supply order from the Border Security Force (BSF) in April 2016. “Other than the BSF, today we have sold our drones to most of the big paramilitary agencies and multiple state police forces,” says company director Mehta, reeling off the names of the police in West Bengal, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, among other states, using the drones for surveillance and security applications. These drones are capable of onboard image processing “which will detect various parameters like motion from the video while flying,” says Mehta. “The drone is also capable of locking onto a target and tracking it. We have had this feature and used it reliably over the past two years.” The Cygnus A10 has a range of up to 15 km radio line-of-sight and the A400 up to 7 km. Both have a service ceiling of 3,000 m above mean sea level. “The fixed-wing drones have an endurance of up to 90 minutes on a single battery charge and the multi-rotor drones can fly for 40 minutes at sea level. Currently, both of the systems
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