What will it take for drones and other Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to develop into flourishing, future-oriented economic systems? As leaders across the world scramble to respond to this fundamental question, it may be India that answers best. The type of indigenous growth required to lead the next era of aerospace will result from economic innovation and India has just the right mix of the three main elements needed to stimulate this.

To take advantage of autonomous aviation technologies there must be a societally important need that drones can help meet in a unique and cost-effective way. In India, we’ve already seen record drought create a dramatic need for even more effective use of potable water and increasingly more granular monitoring of the agricultural impact on groundwater resources. The agricultural use of drones is still finding its footing, but local affiliates and start-ups such as Terra Drone India have already demonstrated the benefits that drones can provide. In a clear indication that the government sees drones as a tool to solve societal challenges, the State of Maharashtra and Survey India, the national mapping agency of the country under the Ministry of Science and Technology, recently committed to mapping 40,000 villages using drones to “fix locations of village boundaries, canals, canal limits, and road.”

Beyond environmental monitoring and water management, supply chain and last-mile delivery service providers in the health industry have begun to experiment with drones in India. As a minister from the Ministry of Civil Aviation explains: “One of the applications for drones that has come forward is an application to transport organs (…) so that is something that we have discussed with a large hospital company that is transporting organs right now and has found it to be very difficult to transport organs, given how crowded Indian streets are.”

Gaps in infrastructure, an awareness and agreement to answer climatological challenges, and a willingness to try new technologies to address new social divides demonstrates one reason why India may lead with drones.

The second reason is that a workforce that knows how to implement the new technology and has the skills to execute that vision are required for technological success - and India is developing both. With a workforce that is both knowledgeable and highly-skilled in the technology sector, India has been a consistent performer when it comes to global innovation since 2015 and rose five places in the Global Innovation Index (GII) to 52 of 126 nations last year.

By 2050, India is expected to account for more than 18% of the global working-age population, with more than 100 million newcomers expected to enter the workforce by 2022. Universities and local technology clusters are already producing local start-ups: according to Inc42 DataLabs, India has at least 50 drone start-ups operating with increasing room for growth and innovation. To date, Indian drone start-ups have demonstrated their ability to detect mosquito breeding grounds to help eradicate blood-borne illnesses, assist city planners in mapping urban environments with cost-effectiveness and precision and even deliver fast food to local communities in a safe and reliable way.

A regulatory environment that enables and supports safe and trustworthy use cases is vital to the successful growth of a drone industry. While this third, increasingly important element is always the biggest barrier to success globally, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is working with the industry to solve the problem. In May 2019, the DGCA released an invitation for collaboration on Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone technologies often seen as the Holy Grail of drone operations. While many nations have tried such experimental programmes, what makes India’s approach different is its framework for collaboration as a consortium, which brings internal and external experts together and enables data sharing in a cohesive way.

India

What is the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit 2019?

Under the theme, Innovating for India: Strengthening South Asia, Impacting the World, the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit 2019 will convene key leaders from government, the private sector, academia and civil society on 3-4 October to accelerate the adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and boost the region’s dynamism.

Hosted in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the aim of the Summit is to enhance global growth by promoting collaboration among South Asian countries and the ASEAN economic bloc.

The meeting will address strategic issues of regional significance under four thematic pillars:

• The New Geopolitical Reality – Geopolitical shifts and the complexity of our global system

• The New Social System – Inequality, inclusive growth, health and nutrition

• The New Ecological System – Environment, pollution and climate change

• The New Technological System – The Fourth Industrial Revolution, science, innovation and entrepreneurship

Discover a few ways the Forum is creating impact across India.

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One such meeting of experts - co-hosted by the Indian government in partnership with the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India as the third meeting of the Drone Innovators Network - is taking place in New Delhi alongside the Forum's India Economic Summit. Industry, government, civil society and academia are gathering to develop industry-friendly regulations that will support and enable the delivery of consumer goods and medicines and allow drones to be used in ways never before possible in India. In this way, the Indian government is signalling its continued desire to embrace innovation in the interest of society.

Driven by a societal motivation to address big challenges, supported by a workforce ready to lead and a government open to new solutions in the public interest, India may just become the global home for the next generation of drone technologies.