This female entrepreneur’s drone services startup aims to automate inspections and offer logistical support

by Niharika Kolte foray into entrepreneurship has an interesting backstory. After completing his bachelor’s degree in commerce, he began his career as an analyst and worked in the M&A and RE space at PWC and KPMG for more than five years before starting.

Niharika Kolte

As he thought about the deal cycle, he realized that the technical due diligence of an M&A deal takes the longest to complete and is the most tedious phase of a deal for an investment banker.

It was asked if a company was selling GW of solar assets, technical due diligence would only be done on a random sampling basis. For example, some solar panels would be selected for testing; this meant that one would not have true and accurate data for the entire plant.

“For a long time I investigated the potential of drones to solve this problem. I thought that drones could help not only minimize the time needed for inspections, but also add immense value to the operations and maintenance of any industrial asset, in a safe and economical way,” he says.

It became clear that a single tool can be implemented for multiple use cases in industries ranging from agriculture and real estate to energy, chemicals, and entertainment.

This realization led to the formation of Volar Alta, which aims to be a one-stop solution for drone-based inspection and surveillance, marketing, film, and counter-drone solutions.

Niharika felt that the use of drones as a technical tool would have a great impact on the digital transformation of many industries and would have a significant and positive impact on the cost of operations, downtime and safety.

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“Drone-based inspections/deliveries can not only reduce CO2 emissions, but can also save lives when working in confined spaces and dangerous environments, acting as the first emergency responder, or delivering critical essentials like blood bags and medications. that save lives or vaccines,” he says.

double sided market

Within a month of starting in 2020, the pandemic arrived and Niharika had to put an end to everything.

But he thought of a clever solution: why not turn around and help police forces use drones as a tool for surveillance in containment zones?

The team worked with the Pune Police and PCMC in collaboration with the Drone Fed of India and got their business up and running.

Volar Alta offers two business verticals:

Internal inspections of assets: Volar Alta anticipates that drone-based asset inspections will become routine, resulting in accurate and actionable data. This will result in reduced repairs and improve asset performance while increasing asset life. It provides internal and external inspection services to industries ranging from cement, steel and chemicals to renewable energy, oil and gas.

Drone-based logistics: The startup aims to become the Uber of drones while allowing each delivery drone to make at least four deliveries while in the air, before returning to base. So while its demand-side application connects businesses with drone operators, its hardware and software suite for these operators makes it more profitable for them to serve that demand.

Niharika launched the company in Mumbai and Pune. The startup doesn’t make drones yet, but it does make smart custom storage payloads to facilitate multiple deliveries in a single flight.

Volar Alta currently operates with a small team of five and has 10 pilot projects under contract.

“We offer internal and external inspection services to clients in the manufacturing, chemical, energy and real estate sectors. The application ranges from thermography, surveying, construction progress monitoring, security and surveillance, visual and ultrasonic inspection of critical assets to precision agriculture,” he says.

It supports the internal and external inspection needs of clients including ACC, Ambuja Cement, Adani and UV Rheinland.

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The beta version of its technology platform to facilitate first, middle and last mile drone deliveries, launched on March 30, has clients including KEMHRC, the Uttarakhand State Department of Health, Pune Zilla Parishad and Biogenics Labs.

Volar Alta’s revenue model works per asset or per day, and depends on the industry for which you perform inspections. For logistics, it’s a simple pay-per-ride model.

Increase efficiency, save time

Niharika explains the solutions in simple terms.

“A cement company in India wanted to deploy drones to carry out internal inspections of its equipment, including silos and cyclones. To understand the condition of the asset from the inside, they would not only have to deploy manpower to find visual defects, but also erect scaffolding.

“The high cost and number of days required for traditional inspections meant the plant would have to be in shutdown mode, which would directly impact production.”

Cement silos are the warehouses where cement and other ash materials are stored for the production of concrete/mortar.

The cyclone preheater is the core equipment of the new dry process cement production technology. It uses the suspension preheating method to preheat and partially decompose the raw material to shorten the length of the rotary kiln, and at the same time make the raw material and hot gas fully flow into the kiln.

For 64 cyclones, it would take about six days just to set up the scaffolding and another five days for manual visual inspection. In addition to these 11 days to solve the problem, a few more days would have been needed for repairs.

Using drones, Volar Alta completed the inspection of 64 cyclones in three days; encountered problems with only six cyclones. For these alone, scaffolding and repair work was carried out, saving around eight days of downtime.

In the inspection space, compete with Aerodyne [service provider]Garuda, Airpix, etc., while in logistics and trucking services, other drone manufacturers like Zipline, Marut Drones, and Redwing Labs could also be your customers.

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Volar Alta has received three grants so far: Rs 3.75 lakh from IIM-Bangalore, Rs 8 lakh from Nidhi Prayas Scheme, GoI – FORGE Forward and Rs 70 lakh from The UK FCDO – British High Commission. She is part of the ‘Women Startups Program’ of the IIM-B NSRCEL.

“Since inception, we’ve seen roughly 10-fold growth. The biggest challenge was educating customers and shortening the sales cycle. However, with the successful demonstration of the effectiveness of drones, our clients have changed their strategy from doing individual projects to entering into rate contracts, as it not only provides them with a better rate, but also provides them with a curated solution and convenient from end to end. experience,” says Niharika.

Niharika’s plan for Volar Alta is to contribute to the drone logistics ecosystem and establish standards and processes to make drone-based deliveries a mainstream reality.