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  • Abhinav Rao Varrey

Application of Drone Technology - Indian Commercial Market

Initially drones were perceived as a toy, they are now being utilized to their full potential across a broad spectrum. Since its inception into commercial utilization, they have helped humans simplify complex tasks and work in extreme conditions without enduring severe costs. Though skeptical in the beginning, the business sectors in India have embraced drones to increase work efficiency and reduce operational cost. According to a report by FICCI and EY, the Indian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market is expected to touch $885.7 million by 2021, with the global UAV market size approaching $21.47 billion. Furthermore, a report by PWC India further states that the drone space is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18% during 2017-23.


Application of Drone technology in major industries


India is among the top countries in terms of drone imports, accounting to over 20%. The reason behind its rapid growth in demand in India is due to the following sectors:



Application of Drones in Engineering and Infrastructure:


UAVs are being used in the engineering and infrastructure industry owing to its ability to automate tasks previously accomplished using complex machinery and time-consuming processes. In the infrastructure segment, drones are used in quarries for topographic surveys and the measurement of reserves and storage volumes. Drones are also used by construction companies to monitor ongoing projects and are also helping governments to create smart cities. By providing useful analytical data pertaining to traffic and crowd management, UAV’s help governments in evaluating the conditions of current infrastructure such as bridges, solar farms, etc. Drones are also valuable in engineering companies to inspect structures such as dams, to detect foundation cracks and areas affected by natural disasters. Most importantly, it helps engineers and constructors to mitigate the risks associated with manual laborer. With the miniaturization of sensor technology, UAVs are finding new ways to solve myriad problems and with the advent of low cost 3D printing technology and off the shelf kits, the design and development costs have gone down drastically, making deployments possible for wide-ranging applications. UAVs today carry advanced sensors such as hyper spectral imager, SAR and LIDAR which are beginning to revolutionize agriculture, search and rescue, town and country planning. The phrase precision agriculture is now synonymous with the use of drones which are being deployed for crop spraying, dusting, monitoring, and crop insurance. Terra Drone India said it has completed the aerial survey of 4,200 sq km of agricultural land for the water resources department of the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation (MKVDC). The survey helped government officials get a clear picture of the crops sown and the type of irrigation used and allows MKVDC to update its archaic maps in half the time of traditional surveying methods. Along with sensors, the development and integration of sense and avoid technologies, UAVs are poised for a quantum leap in drone delivery performing complex flight operations in the national airspace. If India has to build new or convert its existing cities into smart cities, then the deployment of UAVs becomes crucial. UAVs are able to quickly collect highly accurate data and using the latest software are able to aggregate, analyze, deliver accurate and detailed data for the planner. They are used from asset management to programming the most efficient delivery routes. Last year, Zomato, the food delivery service provider acquired a drone company, Tech Eagle, a Lucknow-based startup to help create “hub- to- hub delivery network powered by hybrid multirotor drones”. UAVs become effective tools only when they are available at the grassroots levels of every arm of government and civil society operating within a set of well-defined rules and regulations. With the recent advances in cloud computing, AI, wireless sensors, networked unmanned systems, big data, and Internet of things, billions of devices are being connected together, providing a substantial opportunity for UAVs in smart city program. In India, the application of UAVs has found synergies with inspection of infra projects such as solar and wind energy projects, construction of highways, bridges and “IIT Roorkee is now developing drones to make your rail journey safer”. A young Kolkata based company, M/S Kadet Defence Systems, has mapped over 350 Km of terrain for the IL&FS intended for a highway development for the National Highway Authority of India, and according to its CEO and founder Avdhesh Khaitan, “Drones are a small step to enhance the life of its residents in leaps and bound”. Recently, drones have been deployed by the Indian Institute for Toxicology to collect water samples to study water pollution.


Application of Drones in Security and Surveillance:


The primary sector where drones were used commercially was for security and surveillance. With the advancement in camera resolution and artificial intelligence, drones have become the product of choice, helping governments and security companies in surveillance of desired targets through features like multiple GPS for redundancy, integrated application software with a geographic map, and real-time video transmission. Being a powerful force multiplier, they also help security agencies by providing the ability to schedule, monitor, and repeat autonomous missions to augment security guards. Drone technology is also making a mark in aerial security and surveillance-as-a-service and are being used by governments to ensure border security, coastal security, and better crowd and traffic management processes. Private security companies are using drones stocked with HD image sensing cameras to keep track of people and vehicles. Much like CCTV cameras, companies use this technology to survey the workplace and ensure a safe working environment. Drones with radiometric thermal payload and multispectral cameras are taking over the CCTV surveillance industry and are swiftly becoming the key technology to ensure on-campus safety. With India under lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus, drones provided to be a crucial tool in the functioning of law enforcement authorities and other government agencies which are deploying these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for carrying out surveillance, sanitisation and to reach out to people, minimising the risk of infection for their personnel. While Gujarat Police is using 200 drones across the state to monitor people's movements, Delhi Police has deployed them to ensure people follow social distancing in Asia's largest fruit and vegetable wholesale market Azadpur Mandi. Municipal authorities in Madurai are utilising them to disinfect areas near the coronavirus wing of a city hospital. During the initial days of the lockdown, drones were used by the Jammu and Kashmir administration to announce restrictions on movement of people in Srinagar's busy Lal Chowk. Delhi Police also used drones to monitor people's movements in Ghazipur Mandi, which witnesses a steady stream of buyers throughout the day. The municipal corporation of Warangal in Telangana had collaborated with a private company, Binford Robotics, to deploy its UAVs for surveillance and spraying disinfectants in the city.


Application of Drones in Environmental Studies and Monitoring:


The Indian Forest Department, in the year 2018, used drones to monitor the 13 Crore plantation drive in the Indian city of Nagpur. UAVs are helping environmentalists to study wildlife, monitor flora and fauna, and to capture the impact of environmental factors on the forest life. As the drones can be equipped with scientific scanning equipment, conservationists and researchers are replacing lower-resolution satellite imagery, slower terrestrial surveying equipment, and expensive manned aircraft services. Key areas for use of drones in environmental studies and conservation, include forestry, Plant Conservation, Animal Conservation, River level and flood assessments, marshlands and mangroves assessment etc. In a pilot test conducted on March 28 using drones spraying herbicide at Miyapur lake (16 acre), about 60 per cent reduction in the mosquito population in the area has been achieved. Similar findings were also seen in the tests conducted at Raidurg (40 acre)on April 3 and Musi on April 15. Going by these results, Telangana which has 45,612 lakes could benefit from customised drone application. Marut Drones founder and CEO Prem Kumar Vislawath told Telangana Today, “Hyderabad’s lakes are witnessing mosquito infestations and the surroundings have become high risk areas for dengue, malaria and chicken gunya. To address this problem scientifically and with latest technology, GHMC has partnered with Marut Drones to find an efficient solution.”


Application of Drones in Entertainment Industry:


The use of drones in the entertainment industry has also evolved from being just a toy to a product capable of mass influencing. Drones are being used by film directors to get aerial footage for a particular scene, for which they had to use helicopters in the past, thereby contributing to lower costs. Influencers and creators actively use drones to capture engaging tourism videos of places they visit. Aerial photography has also become popular where photos are captured from high altitudes. The Indian government, during the edition of Asia’s premier air show, Aero India-2019 held a ‘Drone Olympic’ to let drone pilots show their potential of flying these devices. “Our Superstar – The Drone Cam” exclaimed New Zealand’s former cricketer Danny Morrison when the broadcast team cut to the drone camera during the RCB vs MI game in Bangalore. In Mumbai Harsha Bhogle conveyed his appreciation on the role of drone technology in live sport as Quidich drones captured the scenic Marine Drive from the skies during one of the IPL games. Mumbai based Drone Company Quidich Innovation Labs, after four years of constant demonstrations, innovations and uncertain regulations was finally awarded the contract by the BCCI in April this year to deliver compelling live drone shots at the coveted Indian Premier League in 2018. At this point, Team Quidich has covered 30 matches at the IPL. Close to 400 drone cuts have been made by the broadcast team till date with over 45 minutes of airtime through the tournament. Drones have drawn the attention of cricketing stalwarts such as Sunil Gavaskar, Pommie Mbangwa and of course all the IPL teams playing on the field. This is the first instance of drones being used for an entire IPL season’s live broadcasting.


Application of Drones in Survey and Mapping Industry:


In the midst of the pandemic-forced lockdown, the Prime Minister announced the Svamitva scheme on Panchayati Raj Day (April 24), to update rural land records. The scheme aims to map rural inhabited lands using drones and latest survey methods, and is triggered by the fact that land records, especially maps, are either inaccurate or do not exist for vast areas across the country. For the average observer, this may not seem to be the most critical action area, yet this actually has very far reaching consequences and is one of the fundamental reforms required. The Survey of India (SoI) has embarked upon an ambitious project of using drone imaging to create an ultra-high resolution spatial and topographic map of India. Professor Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, calls it the biggest endeavour in Indian mapmaking since the Great Trigonometrical Survey in the 1800s, which produced the first high-precision maps of India. At a cost of `300 crore, the project aims to capture ultra-high resolution images of 75% of the country accurate to 10 cm by 2021. To put this in perspective, a typical service like Google Maps is usually accurate to a few metres. Drone-based mapping has already begun in the states of Maharashtra, Haryana and Karnataka. Important as this project is, using drones to capture high-resolution images of nearly 2.4 million sq km of India comes with unprecedented challenges. Drones are fundamentally different from previous mapmaking technologies as they have the ability to capture high volumes of data. A drone can be equipped with a massive array of sensors including high resolution cameras, audio sensors, infrared sensors, GPS, movement detection, license plate readers, facial recognition, etc. So they require a fundamentally different regulatory approach. Currently, drone use in India is governed by Drone Regulation 1.0, a temporary set of guidelines by the DGCA that do not adequately address privacy, data manipulation and security concerns that emerge from newer drone capabilities. They seem to treat drones as merely smaller versions of aircraft—focussing essentially on their weight, payload and the ranges of altitudes at which they fly. Beyond concerns about preventing the usage of drones in restricted airspaces, an emphasis on producing an extensive documentation trail and involving other agencies that might consider drones to be in their range of concern, there is not much in this stop-gap policy guideline to address pressing issues.


Application of Drones in Agriculture:


India has controlled the spread of crop-threatening migratory pest desert locusts by using advanced technologies, including drones, and ensured there was not much crop damage. More than 10 states, including Uttar Pradesh, faced locust problem in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said adding that the Bundelkhand region faced the locust attack after 30 years. In May, the Bundelkhand region had faced locust problem. I was told the region faced the locust attack after 30 years. Not only Uttar Pradesh, more than 10 states faced the locust problem. A dozen control rooms, including one in Jhansi, were set up and authorities procured special spray machines and distributed in the affected areas. India faced the menace of locust problem in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Bihar. The Central government has provided new financial packages to the agriculture sector to provide them all possible help and the targets of the government to double their income could be achieved. The government is promoting agri-business with a view to provide maximum benefit to the farmers. Amazon, Alibaba, E-bay and Wallmart E-commerce agencies have brought revolutionary changes through artificial intelligence and machine learning. In line with the revolution of Ecommerce, a platform of E agri/digital agriculture is being prepared with the help of which agribusiness schemes will reach the major urban and town areas. Home delivery agencies like Big Basket and Grofers have helped in paving the way to develop beneficial agribusiness for their own with the help of agriculture specialists.


- Written by Abhinav Rao Varrey

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