Exclusive insights with Gangadhar Rao, Managing Director, RSI Softech.

How did RSI Softech India get started? Can you brief your professional journey and how you got associated with RSI Softech?

Remote Sensing Instruments (RSI) is the first GIS company of India started by Mr T Sesha Rao (an ex-scientist of NRSC, ISRO, Department of Space) in the field of Remote Sensing and GIS way back in 1985. RSI started as an opto-mechanical manufacturing unit manufacturing instruments required for satellite image processing. RSI supplied these opto-mechanical instruments across India helped the users of Indian in the usage of IRS satellite imagery. RSI is instrumental in propagating the Remote Sensing Technology across India and few countries overseas. RSI moved on to the digital technology after the advent of computer technology and partnered with ERDAS Inc., for supplying ERDAS Image processing software. RSI upgraded all its users from Opto-mechanical to computer based ERDAS Image processing software.

I have completed my Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science and moved to Australia to pursue Master of Engg. Sc. majoring in Remote Sensing and GIS at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Computer Science was booming at that time and probably I was the first person in 1994 to move from Computer Science to Remote Sensing as I was planning to join back my family business. After my masters in 1996 I have returned and joined RSI and started working on ERDAS software promotion in India. Initially I started as a trainer and solutions provider for the users of India and abroad. I have become one of the 10 world Authorized Instructors of ERDAS and trained more than 1000 ERDAS users officially.

Later in the year 2000 we started a joint venture company ERDAS INDIA Pvt Ltd. to provide digital image processing solutions for surveying and mapping user of India and south east Asia. During this period, I was instrumental in deploying state-of-the-art solutions like PMO-BSS (Battle Surveillance System) to MoD, GDPS and ALIAS Solutions (a massive deployment of our IRS satellite data receiving station and a complete end-to-end data storing to processing to final map making solution) to INCT, Algeria, Deploying 450 licenses of Digital Photogrammetry & more than 200 mobile mapping systems to Survey of India, and many more. After ERDAS got acquired by Leica/Hexagon we have acquired the remaining shares of ERDAS/Leica in ERDAS India company and then renamed the company from ERDAS India to RSI SOFTECH INDIA Pvt Ltd in the year 2008. We had a good client base of approx. 5000 users in India and abroad. During 2000’s we have noticed the market dynamics change as the standard Image Processing Software requirement was reducing and custom solution requirements was growing.

Providing the solutions is like a writing poetry, it depends on the poet and not the pen which poet uses for writing. RSI SOFTECH continued providing the state-of-the-art digital geomatic solutions to the users across the world. RSI SOFTECH has deployed the 3D part of Indian Equivalent of Google Earth known as Bhuvan to ISRO, Dept of Space, first to deploy BSF-GIS solution to battalion level in Border Security Force, created a massive database and a DSS for tsunami vulnerable of Indian Coast for INCOIS, first to deploy enterprise wide 3D GIS technology in CRPF, first to fly drones over an Indian Metro city Chennai and create 3D city model, deployed India’s first Geospatial Cloud for Min. of Science and Technology, currently deploying the Indian National Data Registry portal for NSDI, India.

RSI SOFTECH currently is specialized in providing Enterprise Geospatial Solutions to the geospatial community of the world. It has expertise in medium and large-scale application development involving the latest web technology in the areas of Web GIS, Utility Mapping (AM/FM), BIM Technology, Geospatial Data Mining Applications and providing Data Registry and Spatial Database Infrastructure Portal Applications and Services, flying drones, LIDAR Survey and 3D mapping cities and various other projects.

 

What are the difficulties that you have faced while managing at RSI Softech? How did you overcome them?

As mentioned in the earlier point the market dynamics are ever changing, this happening due the maturity level of the users getting higher and higher in the mapping technology, the standard sales declining and solution sales increasing. RSI SOFTECH transitioned to a total solution provider in the field of Geomatics. When RSI SOFTECH started providing solutions it faced issues of qualifications in the tendering processes and slowly during early part of this decade built good credentials & qualifications and is now able meet any qualification criteria set by the tenderers. Having an own GIS product is better so that we can develop, customize as per the users need. RSI SOFTECH took more than two years and developed a software known as OPS GIS and made it OGC certified and has deployed in many locations. Software development is a difficult task in GIS as the developers should have both development skills and GIS domain skills without which it is difficult for the development of a GIS product. RSI Softech solved this by employing normal developers and teaching them GIS and deploying them on the projects, this is a time-consuming task. For efficient development RSI SOFTECH followed the CMMI standards and got CMMI L3 apprised.

RSI SOFTECH was almost first to enter into the drone-based mapping technology way back in 2011/2012. RSI SOFTECH partnered with MGA (Mission for Geospatial Application, Dept. of Sc. & Tech.) and developed drones initially and has done various trials to succeed in producing viable drones along with MGA for mapping. Initial phase it was difficult to get the drone parts as no one in India is manufacturing the drone’s parts in India.Even till today in India drones are assembled but not manufactured ground up.

Other difficulties faced by RSI Softech include delayed payments, non-availability of dedicated staff assigned to the project from customer side, delays in the verification process, getting approvals for flying, untimely weather condition changes are few to mention. In terms of the development services, identifying and retaining the skilled resources is one of the major challenges by majority of the companies and RSI Softech is no different.

What are the various products and services that RSI Softech is currently offering? What are the sectors that you are serving?

Based on the years of effort and geospatial knowledge RSI SOFTECH is fully geared to provide the applications to suite the current geospatial user needs and specializes in providing turnkey geospatial solutions integrating precise hardware and software and customized apps for today’s enterprise geospatial needs.

Sectors served by RSI Softech include but not limited to the following.   Agriculture, Business/Marketing, Cadastral, Cartography, Defence, Internal Security, Electric, Emergency, Environmental Engineering, Environmental Planning, Forestry, Land Use, Gas, Oil, Mineral Exploration, Oceanography, Meteorology, Photogrammetry, Survey, Pipeline, R&D, Educational, Telecommunications, Transportation, Water Resources, etc.

RSI SOFTECH provides a variety of customer support services for customers in the India, including online, telephone and fax support for technical issues. It also provides custom development services, on a project-by-project basis, to assist customers with tailoring to their specific needs.  Additional project consulting services are provided to help clients re-engineer their project management approach and optimize their hardware and software to provide enterprise GIS solutions.

As part of the development services, RSI Softech Software Engineering Division designs, develops, customizes and integrates a comprehensive range of geographic mapping products, stand alone or web-based applications based on years of experience and knowledge in the geospatial technology. The products are tightly integrated, highly customizable, and easy-to-learn-and-use. RSI SOFTECH is involved in development of various Geo Portals in India and abroad.

RSI SOFTECH specializes in various geo spatial services like deploying Desktop, Mobile Apps and Geo Web Portals to its customers across the world.    Developing specialized hardware for 360 degree indoor and outdoor mapping, LIDAR and Drone services within India.

Can you share a few of the major milestones achieved by RSI SOFTECH? Which one among them is the mostproud moment?

There are many proud moments in the past 35years of our geospatial excellence. First one to mention is the “Udyog Patra Award” President’s award for the best entrepreneur founder of our company Mr. T Sesha Rao in the year 1994. RSI SOFTECH has been awarded the “Geospatial Services Company”  of the year 2009-2010 by GIS Development a popular media house of India. Apart from this RSI SOFTECH has distinction of always first to deploy the solution within India. To name a few, RSI SOFTECH was the only company to deliver the POC of PMO-BSS while four other projects were running in PMO, RSI SOFTECH is the only company to deploy Geo Data Manager data mining solution in MI17 in 55 of their DIV locations, RSI SOFTECH is the first in the country to get DGCA and MOD clearance to fly over a metro city Chennai, it is the only company to take the GIS in 270 location of BSF, RSI SOFTECH is the first to provide Indoor mapping solution and 3D mapping of vital installations in Andhra and Telangana states for OCTOPUS Police (This after math of Taj incident when NSG commandos could not move inside Taj hotel in Mumbai due to lack of floor plans. OCTOPUS police have used our solution and created 3D and floor plan information of all vital installation within Andhra and Telangana States which included georeferenced 360-degree photography of vital installations using indigenously developed 360-degree mapping solution).

Government Geospatial Departments generally do not put the geospatial data in the Public Clouds and wanted to create a private and secured cloud infrastructure with their premises. RSI SOFTECH has deployed first Geospatial Cloud platform by deploying small but full-scale data centre with physical servers, Storage and Cloud OS. The cloud was designed for not more than 10 departments Virtual Machines(VM) but it is not hosting more that 40 and the department is planning to scale up the same for future requirements. RSI SOFTECH also involved in the deployment National Data Registry project a Portal which would register the geospatial data form the Govt. data producing organizations.

How are the happening and emerging technologies like Drones and advancements in remote sensing helping scale up the businesses?

Mapping and surveying previously was done using the Total Stations, DGPS and for the reference the satellite data or manned aerial data was used for mapping. There are lot of disadvantages using these tools as it is time tedious, consuming, many times the ground information is not captured fully and there is no proper imagery to refer to. For small areas purchasing the minimum order quantities of satellite imagery is costly. Today with Drones the process has become very convenient even a smallest area can be captured and like wise large state level imagery can also be captured and processed to produce centimetre level imagery.

RSI Softech realized the potential of drone-based mapping, much before other companies thought about it.   This enabled RSI Softech to quickly formulate solutions around drone-based data acquisition.   Since then RSI Softech invested substantially in promoting and using this technology in various application areas and was able to get precise data with high degree of accuracies. This involved designing optimal flight plans to cover maximum detail, Optimising the processing through parallel processing approach and many more aspects. RSI SOFTECH has also applied for a Patent for optimal drone flying technique.

Owing to this early start, RSI Softech is in a position to work on major projects which are designed around drone-based data acquisition, processing and hosting on web portal. RSI SOFTECH has executed end-to-end projects using the drone technology and created information and deployed from “field to portal”. Few projects currently deployed are for Kolkata Port Trust and Haldia Port Trust, where RSI SOFTECH has gone to the ground acquired cadastral maps, established DGPS boundary pillars, done drone flying, processed all of this data and hosted the data in a web portal on cloud for the department to take the land management decisions. RSI SOFTECH is currently deploying a project for SIPCOT, Tamil Nadu where we are flying over all the SIPCOTs industrial parks and SEZs of Tamil Nadu and hosting it on a web portal for interested investors to see the areas at high resolution and choose the land for setting up industries.

As a part of the GeoSpatial Cloud project we are currently flying over the city of Varanasi and would be hosting this data over the cloud for the use of stake holders like Smart City and Municipal Corporation. Drone technology is going to change the way we used to do the mapping in the past. Use of satellite data may become limited as it has any limitations. The applications and usability can be greatly extended beyond the simple image acquisition activities and it is limited by the designers and user’s vision.   

There has been a lot of competition lately in terms of surveying/mapping with the emergence of a lot of drone companies? Is it any way affecting your business?

Drone based data acquisition and analysis gained significant importance owing to its potential. As we were almost first in this field, we had seen the growth in the past 10 years and have seen many start-ups venturing into this technology. When a greater number of companies form then competition and price wars happen for every project. We have seen in many tenders to win the tender companies are quoting such low prices that their very existence is becoming an issue. There were few states who have come out with empanelment of drone companies and knowing very well it is an empanelment companies quoted such low prices that the project will not be viable to execute. It is common sense that in an empanelment tender bidders should quote high so that a good price rate will be set for the project and all involved will get good rate for their share of the pie, but bidders quoting low are ruining the technology and industry. Drone technology permissions are a major issue as DGCA’s Digital Sky platform is operational yet.

How good and accurate are the drones when compared against traditional methods of surveying/mapping?

Based on the experience of flying on different terrains, different sky and visibility conditions, urban and villages, RSI Softech observed that the accuracies achieved are tightly linked to the flight plan design, terrain variations, atmosphere conditions and illumination scenarios.   If all the conditions are favourable, it is possible to achieve the accuracies of the order of 2cms (under ideal conditions) or better in X and Y directions and it shall be of the order of 3 times of the 2D accuracies, which implies 6cms (under ideal conditions) or better.         Having said this the tradition techniques like Total Stations and DGPS methods can provide millimetre level accuracy but one has to see the efficacy and application requirement when deciding the which method to adopt.

Every technology has its pro and cons. Using the traditional total station and DGPS technology takes lot of time and it will only generate vector points, lines and polygons and will not have a reference image to compare. If we take Satellite Imagery clouds are enemy for satellite imaging like wise for Drone technology water and trees create issues when processing (but current processing software are handling these issues).

 

What advice would you like to give the new generation entrepreneurs tied to the budding GIS companies?

As mentioned earlier getting into the new technology and starting up a company is great, but they need to come up ingenious ways marketing themselves to sustain in the market. Due to the way media is projecting that the drone technology is going to take over the future mapping requirements and that it is simple technology, Start-ups are getting into it without knowing the depth of the technology. For example, flying is an easy step but processing the data to produce the accurate TRUE ORTHO outputs is a difficult process. There are few software packages and online sites which claim that they can process the images but if you try to process more than 10000 photos they fail to produce good result in short time.

Today someone can buy a drone for about 2 lakhs (normal mapping rotary drone with 20MP camera, 30min endurance) and for flying continuously they need to buy minimum 12 to 16 batteries for a day’s operation. To process this data, one should have at least one machine which may cost 7 to 9 lakhs machine, and to process quickly multiple machines and high-end processing software are required. This needs good amount of investment.

Start-ups should not think like others that we will setup a drone company, fly and process the data and deliver the output and make money. No, many are already there doing this work and there is a cutthroat competition in this space already and pricing quite low here.

If funding is not a problem, I would recommend the new generation entrepreneurs to research into manufacturing indigenous drones with internationally acceptable finish and quality. We in India always have finishing touch problems. We have seen our Indian assembled (so calledmanufactured) drones highly priced and you never know when and where they will crash. So invest your money in RnD on drone and manufacture a world class product if funding is not a problem. It may take 2 to 3 years but focus on one thing and develop a product which is affordable and world class.

Another area which entrepreneurs and investors should look at is the processing power. There is no company in India which has a secured processing setup. With right funding one can start a processing centre and provide online access for the drone flying vendors the process their data in the processing centre the new entrepreneur sets up.

My answers predominantly touched upon mapping part of the drone technology. Apart from using the drones for mapping alone, entrepreneurs should think of other applications of drones. Technologies like AI should be used to identify changes and encroachments in real time in an area. Delivery drones manufacturing and complete delivery setup. Drones for Urban Development, Disaster Management, Film and Media, Forestry, Infrastructure, Roads & Railways,Surveillance, Agriculture, 3D City Mapping, etc. and the application list goes on and cannot be covered in this note.