Mumbai-based UAV venture set for the big flight

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on January 17, 2018 Published on August 10, 2016

ideaForge team — Rahul Singh, Ashish Bhat, Ankit Mehta, Vipul Joshi

ideaForge, which has developed drones for the defence forces, awaits changes in regulations to scale up operations

A tacky unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that could have snuffed out the lives of three youngsters at Powai lake in Mumbai, was how it all started for ideaForge Technology.

Co-founded by IIT-Bombay graduates Ankit Mehta, CEO; Rahul Singh, CTO; and Ashish Bhat, CTO, ideaForge develops fully indigenous UAVs that can be used in difficult terrains. The ‘killing machine’, as that first UAV was nicknamed, brought about several learnings for the trio. Backed by angel investors, the hardware tech start-up was deployed in Uttarakhand for disaster management, and was featured in the movie 3 idiots, in which its UAV prototype was used by Aamir Khan.

The trio made a bunch of hovercrafts in the lab, but realised it was very easy; so the excitement tapered off a bit, but the charm of making an aircraft stuck. “We came up with the idea for a quadrotor (drone), and in 2004, we built our first UAV prototype in a bid to enter the IIT tech fest,” says Mehta. At the outset, the team had filed a patent on energy technology, an interdisciplinary engineering science. It now owns more than 20 patents. “We were backed by funding from IIT-Bombay.”

Recalling the initial project, Ankit adds: “We were open to bootstrapping projects, and the IIT Aerospace Department wanted us to make data loggers (for flight parameters) for some of its aero models.”

At the same time, the trio decided to participate in an international contest between the US Department of Defence and the Indian Army. “Some 18 colleges from across the world were participating in MAV2008 (US-Asian Demonstration and Assessment of Micro Air and Unmanned Ground Technology). Our first autonomous UAV for that competition won the hovering category award along with MIT, US. It brought us a lot of recognition.”

From there on, there was no looking back. Facing enquiries from the Indian defence labs to assist them in creating micro and mini UAVs, the team ventured into its Unmanned Systems business. “In 2008, the Indian Navy asked us to deliver our auto-pilot UAV. We started deliveries the next year. The Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) R&D lab in Pune asked us to add it to ground robots. We signed an MoU with them and helped design the part where soldiers can interact with the platform and carry it on field. Thus was born Netra, a co-branded product.”

A flagship product of ideaForge, Netra is used by paramilitary forces, defence and State police forces. “We have 95-per cent Indian market share in the security domain,” gushes Ankit.

IOCL, ONGC, HPCL, BPCL and other corporates have expressed interest in the UAV for internal security management. “The current regulations do not permit us to deploy these platforms, but we are working with corporates and exploring scale opportunities.”

The team has been joined by Vipul Joshi, who takes care of “compliance and HR.” ideaForge is waiting for the tide to turn in their favour in terms of regulation. “After all, we are supplying to the (armed) forces. We have built the company on the right fundamentals.”

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Published on August 10, 2016
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