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Transforming India into a Drone-Nation

How does this machine work? A young Ankit Mehta was often intrigued by this question; it didn’t matter if the machine appeared in a cartoon, a movie, a book or was physically next to him. Drones and other Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) fascinated this young boy. Pursuing his passion for machines, Ankit and his team built quadcopter prototypes at IIT Bombay and now make their technologies more accessible to the masses. His journey from Jodhpur to currently leading ideaForge, who are creators of India’s first micro UAV named Netra, is truly inspiring.

Ankit’s interests in machines and technology were bolstered by his teachers who encouraged him to take tough and unconventional decisions. Always a curious kid, Ankit secured top ranks in several national-level Science Olympiads and pursued a dual degree in Mechanical Engineering from the coveted IIT Bombay (IITB). During his course, he worked on dozens of hardware projects, almost all of which were based on his original ideas.

While at IITB, Ankit worked on various mechanical and electronics engineering projects and became a part of the then newly formed Innovation Cell. Here he got access to resources and mentorship. He also met his co-founders who were his juniors in the course, Ashish Bhat and Rahul Singh. Upon graduating, Ankit took an off-campus placement while continuing to work on his startup. In 2006, he quit his job and co-founded ideaForge.

His trail was beset with numerous challenges. His family wasn’t entirely supportive of the venture, while the lack of prior experience in running an enterprise threatened the existence of ideaForge. However, Ankit was determined to solve these problems and he knew that ideaForge would succeed. Being a meticulous engineer, he broke each problem into smaller, simpler, base components, found the source of problems, and then worked on them. This continues to be his way of dealing with problems, and it works like a charm.

“An entrepreneur’s journey is filled with mutations. Every few months something forces you to think differently. Be open to it.”

Given his tenacity and resolve, success had to follow. ideaForge shared the first prize with MIT, USA in the hovering category of platforms at the prestigious Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) competition 2008, organized by the Indian Army and the US Department of Defense. Today, UAVs of this rookie startup are creating a massive impact in various fields including anti-terror operations (Pathankot and Pampore attacks), crowd surveillance (Amarnath Yatra and Kumbh Melas), and disaster management (Nepal earthquake and Uttarakhand floods). Netra was the first UAV to be used by Indian defence forces.

Remember the drone in the movie 3 Idiots? That was an ideaForge drone too.

Ankit’s journey showcases the diligent pursuit of one’s dreams. Behind his cheerful and calm disposition lies immense grit and perseverance, the two qualities necessary to realise one’s dreams. Technologies must create far-reaching impact and Ankit is committed to making it happen.

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