In the increasingly competitive war between delivery apps, Swiggy recently unveiled what could be their most efficacious weapon yet: a partnership with Chennai-based drone startup Garuda Aerospace to deliver groceries in Bengaluru by deploying drones. Garuda, which recently welcomed cricketer M S Dhoni on board as an investor and brand ambassador, is among the leading aerospace firms in India to spearhead drone food delivery — another is Skyeair Mobility, whose drones will be delivering food for Swiggy in Delhi-NCR.
Agnishwar Jayaprakash, founder and CEO of Garuda Aerospace, says he wants to introduce the idea of “groceries at your doorstep in seven to 10 minutes” in India. “If you are to measure the quickest time and the fastest route between two points, the result is always a straight line,” he says, adding “But when one travels on road, it’s a roundabout route. Exactly there comes the viability of goods delivery through drone technology.”
Valued at around $250 million, the seven-year-old Garuda Aerospace brags a fleet of 300 drones and has bagged 8,000 drone orders from Malayasia, East Africa and South American countries, according to Agnishwar. Explaining why India is a preferred supplier, he says, “the firmware and the software work is done securely here, so there are no concerns about information security”. Garuda Aerospace has supplied drones to the likes of L&T and Adani, besides collaborating on various projects with Wipro, Intel, Tata Voltas, IIT Madras, IIT Roorkee, and Delhi metro’s CISF unit, Varanasi smart city and ISRO, etc. The drones are involved in a wide range of jobs, including solar panel cleaning, warehouse management, spraying of fertilizers, seeding fields and stringing transmission lines.
“Currently we have a team of 120 permanent pilots, and about 400 more are on a contract basis,” says Agnishwar adding they are currently in the process of raising a $30 million fund for a series A round at a valuation of $250 million.
“We have over 100 active projects going on right now,” he states, adding, “We had 24% profit margin last year, which is rare for a startup. Our forecast is to have manufactured and sold 40,000-50,000 drones by the end of the financial year 2022-23.” Agnishwar states, “the actual operations will start in the middle of July. Right now, we are in the planning stage. From pickup point (seller-run dark stores) to customers’ location — we are chalking out the easiest and fastest routes.”
A UAV engineer at Garuda Aerospace explains, “To make grocery delivery through drones possible, the tank where the fertilizer usually is stored, the tube, the nozzles and the motor cables will be taken off and a box made of composite fibre would be placed there instead.”
“It can carry loads up to anywhere between five kilograms to 20 kilograms and cover a distance of 30-40 kilometres with a speed of 60 kilometres per hour,” reveals Agnishwar.
Stating the rising demand for drones now, he says, “However, the unit economics still need to work out for service providers like us. Right now, my company has the required manpower and technology to meet market demands.” The biggest challenge, he says is a dearth of skilled labour to man the drones. “But the job of a drone pilot is a lucrative one and we are on our way to make youngsters realise this,” says Agnishwar, adding, “A drone pilot can make anywhere between ₹20,000 and ₹80,000. It can reach even ₹1 lakh, depending on the skills of pilot. Our aspiration is to create an entrepreneurship route — one drone should create at least three jobs: drone pilot, data processor and drone maintenance professional.” Although Garuda is based in Chennai, Agnishwar stresses, “We have presence in 26 cities. So, we see ourselves as a pan-India company.”