July 21, 2022

A look at Garuda, the drone startup behind Swiggy’s aerial delivery plans

Chennai-based Garuda Aerospace Founder and CEO Agnishwar Jayaprakash talks to us about the company’s roadmap to redefining delivery service in India

Chennai-based Garuda Aerospace Founder and CEO Agnishwar Jayaprakash talks to us about the company’s roadmap to redefining delivery service in India

In the increasingly bitter war between delivery apps, Swiggy recently unveiled what may be their most effective weapon yet: a partnership with Chennai-based drone startup Garuda Aerospace to deliver groceries to Bangalore by deploying drones. Garuda, which recently welcomed cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni on board as an investor and brand ambassador, is one of the leading aerospace companies in India spearheading food delivery by drone – another is Skyeair Mobility, whose drones will deliver food for Swiggy in Delhi-NCR.

Agnishwar Jayaprakash, founder and CEO of Garuda Aerospace, says he wants to introduce the idea of ​​”groceries to your doorstep in seven to 10 minutes” in India. “If you have to measure the fastest time and the fastest route between two points, the result is always a straight line,” he says, adding “But when you’re traveling on the road, it’s a circuitous route. This is exactly where the viability of delivering goods through drone technology comes from.

Drones, customized to carry groceries, have now found another use. They are now carrying relief items and helping to deliver aid to flood-hit Assam.

However, this is not the only marker of the success of his company. Garuda has been making his mark for a while.

Garuda Founder and CEO Agnishwar Jayaprakash flies an agricultural drone

Garuda Founder and CEO Agnishwar Jayaprakash flies an agricultural drone | Photo credit: special arrangement

miles ahead

Valued at $250 million, seven-year-old Garuda Aerospace has a fleet of 300 drones and has logged 8,000 orders for drones from Malaysia, East Africa and South American countries. South, according to Agnishwar. Explaining why India is a preferred supplier, he says, “Firmware and software work is done securely here, so there are no concerns about information security.” Garuda Aerospace has supplied drones to L&T and Adani, in addition to collaborating on various projects with Wipro, Intel, Tata Voltas, IIT Madras, IIT Roorkee, Delhi Metro CISF Unit, Varanasi Smart City and ISRO , etc. Drones are involved in a wide range of jobs, including cleaning solar panels, warehouse management, spraying fertilizer, seeding fields and stringing transmission lines.

“Currently we have a team of 120 permanent drivers, and around 400 more are under contract,” says Agnishwar, adding that they are currently in the process of raising a $30 million Series A fund worth $200,000. $250 million.

“We have over 100 active projects going right now,” he says, adding, “We had a 24% profit margin last year, which is rare for a startup. Our forecast is to have manufactured and sold 40,000 to 50,000 drones by the end of fiscal year 2022-23.

Customized for Kirana

Agnishwar says that “the actual operations will start in mid-July. At the moment we are in the planning phase. From pick-up point (vendor-run dark stores) to customer location, we map out the easiest and fastest routes. »

A Garuda drone modified to store and transport groceries

A Garuda drone modified to store and transport groceries | Photo credit: special arrangement

But how would an agricultural drone help Swiggy’s Instamart service? A UAV engineer from Garuda Aerospace explains: “To make grocery delivery by drones possible, the tank where the fertilizer is usually stored, the tube, the nozzles and the motor cables will be removed and a composite fiber box will be placed there. placed. In place.”

“It can carry loads ranging from five to 20 kilograms and travel a distance of 30 to 40 kilometers at a speed of 60 kilometers per hour,” Agnishwar reveals.

Flight of ambition

Explaining how he became interested in drones, Agnishwar says: “It was during my time at the United Nations in 2017-2018 when I worked under former UN Under-Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri that I observed how in developing countries like India the adoption of drone technology is very slow. They were very capital intensive and there were too many regulatory standards. Plus people lacked the expertise to maintain them The application of drones was largely limited to film shooting, wedding videography, and photography.

The 31-year-old CEO-founder shares how his association with the United Nations played a vital role in the creation of his drone start-up. “I had the opportunity to study many case studies and impact reports during my time at the United Nations. I came to understand that developing countries needed disruptive and emerging technologies like drones that could disrupt several multi-billion dollar sectors like precision agriculture technology.

He started thinking about “how drones could serve multiple purposes, if properly equipped. This is what gave me the idea to equip the drones with magnetometers, sensors, nozzles, tanks and all that is necessary for it to effectively provide a varied range of services. It makes things a lot faster and it’s profitable, a lot more efficient and it helps reduce costs for market players,” explains the young entrepreneur.

Garuda Aerospace was incubated in 2015 at Agni College of Technology, Chennai, where Agnishwar is currently Vice President. “We started developing drones, with a focus on wildlife, agriculture and sustainability, which earned us recognition by the UN as one of the top 10 socio-economic innovations in 2016. Since then, we have been working with the UN on a project-by-project basis,” says the alumnus of Queens University in Charlotte, USA, .

The drone start-up currently has a manufacturing unit in Manesar. The company will expand its R&D facility, located inside the Agni College of Technology, to house a drone manufacturing unit. “This unit will manufacture 30 different types of drones for various applications, including grocery delivery,” says Agnishwar.

Stating that there is a growing demand for drones now, he says, “However, the unit economy still has to work for service providers like us. Currently, my company has the manpower and technology to meet market demands.

The biggest challenge, he says, is the shortage of skilled labor to man the drones. “But the job of drone pilot is lucrative and we are on the way to getting youngsters to understand that,” says Agnishwar, adding, “A drone pilot can earn between ₹20,000 and 80,000. He can even reach ₹1 lakh. , depending on the skills of the pilot.Our aspiration is to create an entrepreneurship pathway – a drone should create at least three jobs: drone pilot, data processor and drone maintenance professional.

As to why Garuda’s drones will be used for grocery delivery in Bengaluru and not Chennai, despite Garuda’s strong base in Chennai, Agnishwar says, “It’s entirely Swiggy’s decision. We will start with Bangalore, but we can still offer our services in other cities. At the moment, the tests are in progress. Actual operations will begin around the middle of next month.

Although Garuda is based in Chennai, Agnishwar points out: “We are present in 26 cities. So we see ourselves as a pan-Indian company. »