Gurugram-based drone company, TechEagle Innovations has partnered with Ethiopian e-commerce company Addis Mercato to begin beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone deliveries of healthcare and other essential items in Ethiopia, the company said in a statement on Monday. Vikram Singh Meena, TechEagle’s co-founder and CEO told MediaNama that Addis Mercato is in the process of seeking necessary regulatory approvals in Ethiopia, and the two companies are planning to start this operation in the first quarter of 2021. The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, the country’s airline regulator, has very recently finalised a draft of the country’s first drone policy.
BVLOS drones are essentially drones that can be flown away from an operators’ eye. However, for that, they need a traffic management device called a UTM, which handles the drone’s position in a given airspace and has capabilities such as anti-collision. When we asked Meena which company was providing TechEagle with the UTM, he did not name any company specifically, and said that they have a “robust UTM platform in place”.
The drones that will be used to carry out these deliveries are capable of vertical take-off and landing, precision navigation, detect and avoid, visual identification and smart flight path planning with real-time redundant network connection, and scheduling capabilities, TechEagle said in a statement. “This solution would save human lives with faster delivery response time to emergency situations (i.e. blood components, vaccine, anti-venom, medical samples etc.). While building the ecosystem, we believe in empowering the local youth with skill development, training and by creating new job opportunities for them,” Meena told MediaNama.
BVLOS experiments in India: TechEagle is also participating in India’s BVLOS experiments, where it is one of the 20 consortia to have received the aviation regulator, DGCA’s, approval to experiment with drone deliveries. The company is part of a consortium called ClearSky, which also includes telecom operator Vodafone, and food delivery company Zomato, among others. Meena told MediaNama that a final clearance from the Home Ministry to formally begin this experiment is in the process, and the company is expecting to start trials by the end of September 2020. India will look at data collected from these experiments to formulate dedicated regulations for BVLOS drone use.
Zomato-TechEagle fallout: Zomato had acqui-hired TechEagle in December 2018 with the hope of setting up drone delivery circuits, with TechEagle’s design, to reduce last-mile delivery leg. However, in only a year and a half, the TechEagle team resigned en-masse from Zomato, cancelling the acquisition. While Zomato said that the companies were no longer “aligned” about their future goals, the deal fell through for other reasons, chief among which were Zomato’s funding restrictions and its apprehension to begin drone delivery in countries where regulations are relatively relaxed.