What is a drone and how can businesses access the technology in India?

25th Aug 2017
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In India there is an anticipated huge market for commercial operations and drone services, along with all types of recreational activities drones can do, and many people and businesses are eagerly waiting for this opportunity and regulatory clarity to really develop further.

The world was just about to settle with technology advancements, then came the drone.

Technically speaking, a drone is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). But how is this aircraft without a human pilot aboard useful and revolutionary?  In 1849, when Austria attacked Venice by sending unmanned balloons filled with bombs, the attack caused little damage, but Venice surrendered two days later.

Since then the concept of the drone has leapfrogged in both its technological specifications and in its operations. Devoid of any human interference aboard, a drone uses myriad technologies that enable a seamless control over its unmanned flight operations and objective.

Like any other flight system, it uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, 360-movement and the required acrobatics. It is able to fly autonomously without any supervision or can be piloted remotely. As per the objective of flying, a drone can be made-to-losing or recoverable. They can carry different types of payloads, lethal or non-lethal.

Disrupting businesses

Different countries and fly zones have respective jurisdictions for flying, owning and transporting drones across borders. Jurisdictions are based upon their definition of size or weight and sometimes capabilities. For example, the US Federal Aviation Administration defines any unmanned flying craft as a UAV regardless of size.

With technological advancement in telecommunication, robotics, and GPS technology, the drones have reached a revolutionary phase where they are fast disrupting the businesses and ground operations. Logically, drones are used in DDD situations: Dull/Dirty/Dangerous. There are numerous applications and processes that are designed for implementation through drones. There is now the inclusion of machine learning where the drone can navigate without guided control and can avoid obstacles with its own understanding of the surrounding dynamic environment. The aerial robotics is always improving on new sensors, auto-pilot scenarios and sophisticated navigation strategies.

Technology integration

For recreational uses, a drone has been a great buddy with kids and youngsters. For fun and play it can be a model aircraft that can shoot video and pictures and can have playful autonomous capabilities like sprinkling water or colour. With the popularity of drones, safety is becoming a big concern. A typical technical error could be a drone losing its GPS accuracy and positional information and start moving in a no-fly zone. Newer technologies are being developed where a fall-back system can regain stability and renewed control of the UAV.

Mapping of geographical areas has been a key requirement of drones. The drones use accurate stitching tools and real-time streaming for capturing the image variables, required for the mapping. The important developments here are ultra-light weight imaging tools, the stability of long flights, and windy conditions, proximity sensing and manoeuvrability.

There are advancements in local positioning systems that allow self-learning of structures and inspections. Accurate flying sometimes requires precision at sub-centimetre level. The efficiency of drones has become better than piloted missions, hence now their use has become mandatory at some applications mainly in dangerous or critical levels. The flight control and sensory data is captured into the on-board data analytics and is highly sophisticated compared to human interfaced systems.

 Applications

The added use of scan tools like laser, 3D map, weight and power balancing, lidar systems, dynamic feedback, and trajectory feasibility has helped to overcome many operational constraints and has opened up new application areas for drones. The applications are limitless in the surveillance, audits, agriculture, civil monitoring, and defence.

Realising the potential of robotics drones, governments and top universities are heavily promoting entrepreneurial ecosystems. Continuing artificial intelligence and deep learning technologies are expected to bring a new generation of social robots and drones. Advancement in natural language understanding and generation is going to further decouple drone communication from code base to direct human natural interactions. The convergence will transform the industries, digital and physical systems.

How can businesses access drone technology in India?

As per draft guidelines issued by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in April 2016 the drone, which is referred as Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) in the document, must be registered with the authority. Every drone must be issued a Unique Identification Number (UIN) and can be only granted to an Indian citizen or registered corporate of India. This means all the responsibility pertaining to drone has legal implications to the person/company to whom the drone UIN is issued. The documentary requirements include drone details like model, make, operation, operational frequencies, purpose, and maintenance guidance. The drone after registration will be tagged by identification plate and RF ID tag or SIM. To fly and operate above 200ft a special operator’s permit, UAOP would be required while flying below 200 ft in non-sensitive areas will be allowed and considered under recreational activity.

What are the safety measures/training/licence required to own or use this technology?

The remote pilot should have attained 18 years with thorough ground training and simulated flight training. This is bad news for kids as drone flying is illegal below 18 years of age as per DGCA guidelines. The good news is mini drones less than two kg for recreational use are probably exempted from such restrictions, one must check the final guidelines that will be issued with the drone registration.

Even after obtaining all licences every flight event above 200ft must be intimated to local administration and Airport Terminal Services (ATS) unit. The drone with UIN can be transferred, sold or disposed of with permission from DGCA. Privacy and protection of personal property law are to be highly followed. The drones can be operated as Visual Flight Rules (VFR) only. The present draft regulations do not allow drone flights at night and deviated meteorological conditions like visibility less than five km and wind speed more than 20 knots. It's mandatory to have insurance cover for liability arising due to third-party damages or accidents.

Current status from the business perspective in India

There are many industrial applications like safety surveillance, manufacturing operations, logistic manoeuvrability, and aerial mapping. Aerial photography application depends on drone technology being adopted. At State and Central level, there still exists an ambiguity as the final policy is yet to launched and conveyed to various concerned departments. Usage of drones presently is considered as security threat through aerial attacks and use of explosive materials. Although drones are commercially available online and electronics market the present set of regulations are not in place to fully regulate to mitigate risks and at the same time promote useful applications for social, environmental, and business use.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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