In modern warfare, drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems, have become mainstream equipment for militaries across the globe. From surveillance to combat, these machines can fulfil various roles with diverse configurations. With the integration of AI/ML, advanced flight computers, and computer vision technology, drones are increasingly capable of autonomous operations and both homogeneous and heterogeneous swarming. Affordability is also a significant factor thanks to additive manufacturing. Both militaries and non-state actors are resorting to makeshift solutions by equipping off-the-shelf camera drones or small FPV drones with munitions. We have witnessed the utilization of these makeshift solutions by terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Hamas, and LeT, as well as by the Ukrainian military in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

As drone technology evolves, countries are also investing in countermeasures against drones. These countermeasures include creating GPS-denied environments, employing soft-kill solutions using GNSS/GPS spoofing and RF spoofing, and implementing hard-kill solutions. The majority of small and medium drones are unable to withstand these countermeasures.

In an ever-changing battlespace, countries are reluctant to allow their adversaries to possess such countermeasure capabilities. Even if they do, countries are devising methods to circumvent them. Solutions such as GPS-denied navigation and AI-based autonomous flight are effective against soft-kill and GPS-denied environment countermeasures. Countries like Israel, China, and the USA have already developed counter-counter solutions for these challenges. Now, Indian startups are also entering in this space.

Vecros, founded by Besta Prem Sai and IIT Delhi incubated startup, is developing similar drone technology designed to operate in GPS-denied and soft-kill environments. This article will cover some basic questions answered by the founder and CEO, Besta Prem Sai, regarding the company’s journey, its product, challenges faced by drone companies, and the future outlook.

Q1: Could you please take us through the journey of how Vecros came into existence and evolved into its current state?

Besta Prem Sai: During my time at college, I initiated an Aero-Modelling club. Despite the absence of an aerospace department at IIT Delhi, drones were a fascinating subject, and we were eager to construct our own. We decided to approach some professors for funding, and thus, the Aeromodelling Club was born. I began delving into various aspects of drone technology, including airframes, electronics, and flight pivots.

Upon graduating, I felt compelled to take a risk and venture into entrepreneurship within this field. However, I was unsure about which direction to pursue. Consequently, I embarked on a research fellowship and stumbled upon the intriguing topic of GPS design and navigation. This entails navigating drones in scenarios where GPS signals are either disabled or lost. I dedicated myself to cracking the necessary technology within a year, realizing that this was the area in which I needed to focus. This marked the inception of Vecros.

Initially, my attention was primarily devoted to the core technological aspects. It was during this time that I encountered Rajashree and Deepak. Rajashree, who had authored six research papers during her college years, appeared to be an ideal fit for managing the robotics and path planning stacks essential for this form of navigation. Meanwhile, Deepak, who was two years my junior, and had collaborated on several projects, and I was impressed by his work ethic. Thus, Deepak became a key member of our core team, while Rajashree assumed the role of my co-founder. Together, the three of us form the foundational pillars of Vecros.

Q2: Give an overview of your product portfolio and the specifications of your products.

Besta Prem Sai: Our flagship product is called Athera. Athera belongs to a small category of drones. It is equipped with eight cameras and has an IP 53 rating. The drone has an operating system called Jetpix, and we have incorporated spatial AI with it. Essentially, it’s an artificial intelligence network that comprehensively analyses its surroundings in 360 degrees, providing pertinent data to the flight controller. This enables the drone to maintain optimal flight conditions, including velocity, acceleration, and other critical parameters. Moving on to the hardware aspect, Athera boasts an array of features, including an RGB camera, electro-optical/IR sensors, and the capability to intelligently detect obstacles using its 8-camera setup. It can then adapt its course of action accordingly, whether by stopping, bypassing, or finding an alternative path to accomplish its mission. In terms of technical specifications, the processor embedded within the drone can perform 21 trillion operations per second. It offers a flight time of 30 minutes and has a maximum altitude ceiling of approximately 120 meters, with the potential to reach heights of up to 400 meters. Concerning its range, Athera can cover a distance of up to 4 kilometers on a single battery charge. So, in summary, these are the key specifications of our drone.

Q3: What role will your product perform for the Armed Forces?

Besta Prem Sai: Especially considering the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, we’re witnessing instances of GPS spoofing and RF spoofing. This situation allows individuals on the opposite side of the border to seize control of drones, rendering them ineffective and disarming them. Consequently, this impedes our drone operations. However, our drone technology does not solely rely on GPS technology. Therefore, even in the presence of GPS spoofing or similar disruptions, our drone remains steadfast in its designated location. It continues its mission undeterred, ensuring successful delivery. This capability represents a significant advancement and will undoubtedly have a profound impact. It’s worth noting that only a select few countries possess this technology, and we are proud to announce that India, our home country, is among them. As a small startup, we take immense pride in leading this technological advancement from India’s soil.

Q4: Have you received any interest or orders from the Indian Armed Forces?

Besta Prem Sai: Yes, we have. We have been experimenting with our system with the Indian Air Force and also with Indian Army personnel. We have shown a couple of demos to the Indian Air Force, and they were really impressed. They have also extended support to test it in real-life scenarios. So, we are planning some proof of concept, demos, and basically risk assessment and everything with their team. We are on the way to procuring new orders, but before that, we are fulfilling every need that the Indian Air Force or Army would ask for.

Q5: You told us about the swarm of drones you are working on. Could you elaborate on that?

Besta Prem Sai: The swarm of drones is simply an extension of what we are building. Since we have mastery over navigation technology, we can now ensure that our drones are resistant to RF spoofing and GPS spoofing. Essentially, we are implementing what is known as anti-soft kill technology. Picture a group of drones heading into battle and independently neutralizing an armed column. That’s the level of technology we aim to develop. Currently, we are at level 4 autonomy, but we aspire to reach level 5 autonomy, where you simply give a mission to the drone, akin to instructing a soldier, and the drone figures out the rest. This level of sophistication is our goal. Additionally, within the swarm system, we are implementing something known as a heterogeneous swarm system. This means that quadrotors and octarotors can communicate with each other. In contrast, in a homogeneous swarm system, all drones are similar and communicate with each other, but there is no communication with the GCS or other areas. However, in our drones, we aim to build different types of systems based on the same flight computer. This will provide us with flexibility in choosing the airframe for different types of machines.

Q6: We are observing that some drones are dropping munitions from a few companies. Is there any plan to equip your drone with those munitions.

Besta Prem Sai: Regarding that matter, our drone can currently handle a one-kilogram payload. What we’ve heard from Defence personnel is that they want a 60-minute flight time at least, and they want a drone that can carry at least 2-3 kilograms with that flight time. So, we are working on it, and as I mentioned, navigation is the core part, and we have cracked it. Our goal now is to build different types of drones around it, so we will be able to cater to different types of use cases.

Q7: What efforts are being made towards the localization of drone parts?

Besta Prem Sai: So, if you talk about motors and all, we are actively engaged with all the drone sub-component developers across India. We have recently partnered with Vector Techniques from Hyderabad to build custom motors for us. And we can say that 80% of the drone parts are procured from Indian-origin companies themselves. Only the motors and other motor sub-components, like magnets and wiring, might have a different country of origin. But we are making sure that the entire system is built in India so that we take good advantage of it when it comes to defending our borders. We are procuring batteries from an indigenous manufacturer. So, the manufacturer procures raw cells from another country. That’s why I mentioned 80% of it, because batteries make up like 15% of the entire drone itself. On top of the batteries, we actually add our own BMS, and we make it somewhat indigenous.

Q8: What is the current production capacity of your company?

Besta Prem Sai: We can produce like ten drones per month as per our facility and the systems we have, and we intend to increase it to more than 100 drones per month with an additional round of funding that we are currently seeking.

Q9: Which processor do you use for your drone?

Besta Prem Sai: We use a processor called NVIDIA Jetson Xavier NX, and we have small processors called STM 32 for BMS and other subsystems.

Q10: Is there any plan to build flight control around Indian processors like Vega or Shakti?

Besta Prem Sai: We do, but currently, the kind of capacity that we want for AI computations, the processors available from indigenous firms are not supportive. We have to stick to Xavier itself.

Q11: From your perspective, what are the major challenges the Indian drone industry is facing today?

Besta Prem Sai: I think it’s the non-enforcement of regulations. Basically, we have good regulations like type certification and everything, but people have found, backdoors and other ways to circumvent those regulations and sell Chinese imported drones. So when you are importing drones and selling them at half the price and genuine Indian manufacturers are investing in R&D, paying salaries, and doing everything, then it is very disappointing for me. I hear a lot of stuff that says this is how business is done. I don’t believe in that stuff. In order to beat DJI or any other big player, we need to have at least some protectionism against this predatory pricing. You just can’t beat Chinese drones on price because of their volumes. And if you want to reach a volume, we need to start the R&D first. Even investors are not showing interest in the drone industry for the same reason. Because in every corner, there is a drone company, and what they do is just import the parts and assemble, which should not be the case. Especially because there are no safety precautions or people do not understand the software in order to modify it. For us, we know the Indian conditions, and we know that this is the exact problem. We can modify the drone, customize it and develop our own solutions. And there is a possibility that our solution can be exported to other countries as well. You can go to YouTube and search for a drone in India. You will find a lot of people who are openly selling Chinese imported drones. And when you ask officials, they say that everything is OK. Nobody is importing drones from China. So that thing I feel is a disadvantage to genuine people who want to do Make in India, and I am sad to say that. Even the Indian defence ecosystem has such imported drones, and they don’t encourage local manufacturing. Or even if they do, companies like us have really big entry barriers to enter defence. So that’s one big issue we are facing.

Q12: Is there any plan to integrate NavIC into your system?

Besta Prem Sai: Yes, we do. Actually, we are in talks with a Bangalore-based company that is developing a NavIC system, and I feel it is pretty straightforward and works with our drone out of the box. We don’t have any problems. So we are working on an EM&C kind of system. We are checking out different configurations, or basically, software that needs to be integrated with our flight controller.

Q13: Could you provide some insight into the funding your company has received so far and the key investors involved in supporting your endeavours?

Besta Prem Sai: We have raised around $250,000 as of now, which is approximately 2 crores in terms of value. We were fortunate to find good investors early on to help us in this endeavor. Even though we were not making any money and we were upfront burning everything on R&D, our investors believed in us, and I also think there are a set of people who want to help. The passion that we are bringing to the table is evident, and currently, we have the former BharatPe CEO and& COO, who has shown incredible interest and invested in our vision and passion. We were struggling with some funding, which affected our ability to develop our product properly. So, the current investors are really helpful to us. Even IIT Delhi is one of the shareholders in our company, providing us with much-needed support. Recently, we also received investment from Shark Tank India.

Q14: What is the future of Vecros?

Besta Prem Sai: So, in the coming 5 years, we want to really expand or scale up our solutions in the defence and enterprise segments. If possible, we also want to build interplanetary drones. NASA has sent a drone to Mars; why can’t we send one from India? So, that’s the question I want to ask, and I want to work on it. I feel that it is completely possible, and we are well-positioned to do it. So, that’s my goal as of now.

Q15: Offer some closing thoughts from your side.

Besta Prem Sai: My closing thoughts are very simple. Defence is a really good market, and it needs some reforms in procurement to encourage startups because currently there are players who have been really exploiting what the government intends to do. But if you stick to what we want to develop and if our intent is correct, I feel there are enough people who will back us, help us, and take our initiatives forward. So, from the closing thoughts point of view, always stick to your passion and always try to be true to your intent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *