Dronetech startup Marut is helping Telangana take the fight to coronavirus
The fight against coronavirus has brought out the big tech guns - artificial intelligence, mapping, big data, and location technology – to help track, monitor, and control the spread of the disease.
With authorities and governments using drones to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the spotlight is shining bright on dronetech. Countries including the US, Australia, and China are using drones for surveillance, spraying disinfectants, supplying medicines, and groceries.
In India, Hyderabad-based Marut Dronetech is working with the Telangana government to deploy drones for public safety applications. Marut was initially founded by three IIT-Guwahati batch-mates, Prem Kumar Vislawath, Suraj Peddi, and Sai Kumar Chinthala, in 2019, as a solution to the pesky mosquito problem.
The startup was selected to be part of Facebook’s India Innovation Accelerator Programme- AI for Social Good, and was awarded the ‘Emerging Technology Award for Drones and AI’ at the sixth Nasscom Technology Conference, 2019. However, Marut’s achievements are not limited to these awards and recognitions.
Marut joins coronavirus fight
Prem, Co-founder and CEO of Marut Dronetech, tells YourStory: “As remotely piloted devices, drones can be the potential game changers in the fight against COVID-19.”
The Karimnagar Municipal Corporation has deployed customised drones developed by Marut for spraying disinfectants in an area where 11 people tested positive for COVID-19. The drones are also being used to spray disinfectants at the district collectorate, municipal corporation offices, district hospitals, bus stations, auto stands, and markets.
“At a given time, it is seen that drones disinfect 50 times more area than traditional methods. They are more efficient, avoid cross infection, and keep human operators out of harm’s way,” says Prem, 29.
So far, Marut has successfully disinfected 1,900 kilometres with 9,800 litres of chemicals, spanning across eight districts of Telangana -- Sangareddy, Kamareddy, Warangal, Karimnagar, Nalgonda, Nizamabad, and Narayanpet, among other border districts.
The dronetech startup has also developed public monitoring and warning drones fitted with a camera and speaker. These can be used to monitor coronavirus hotspots, prevent crowds from gathering, and provide appropriate instructions. Prem says the drones can also be used for temperature monitoring using thermal imaging and medical delivery of critical supplies.
Marut recently demonstrated these ideas to the Directorate of General of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Civil Aviation. In collaboration with the Emerging Technologies Wing of the Government of Telangana, Apollo Hospitals, and World Economic Forum, Marut also demonstrated the possibility of delivery of medical supplies.
“Our drones could cover a distance of 12 km in eight minutes, which is 80 times faster than traditional delivery methods,” Prem says.
Marut is in the process of taking its solutions to other cities, including Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and Raipur.
The Eureka moment
Hailing from a small town in Telangana, Prem was not new to the problem of mosquitoes in India. Hyderabad’s lakes were used to dump garbage and sewage water, converting them into breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Prem approached local authorities, but their response startled him. “As an IIT graduate, they advised me to find a solution to fight this menace,” he says.
Pondering on a solution to combat the risk of vector-borne diseases, Prem, along with his batch-mates Sai (28) and Suraj (28), founded Marut in 2019.
Later, they approached Hyderabad Municipal Corporation to help increase coverage of its mosquito eradication operations.
“This not only reduced the mosquito population, but also proved to be cost and time efficient. Drones could do the work that required 300-man days, at one-fifth of cost. In fact, it showed that GHMC workers’ health improved as they were no longer required to get into lakes and breathe chemicals,” Prem says.
So far, Marut has worked on over 4,730 hectares of lakes around Hyderabad. Its team comprises 15 professionals and 10 consultants. Initially bootstrapped, the startup recently raised seed funding from Kiran Darisi and Parsuram Vijayshankar, the Co-founders of Freshworks.
Marut's product offerings
The dronetech startup’s name has a mythological undertone.
“Different interpretations of Maruts exist in Hindu mythology - from being ‘storm deities’ to ‘gods of wind’. All stories, however, point to beings that are masters in the art of flying and are owners of the skies. We found the name apt for our core area of business that involves drones,” Prem says.
Marut offers four products, the latest being Marut Medico. These drones are programmed to ensure last-mile delivery of medical supplies with the help of GPS.
Marut Go drones are engineered to sow seed balls into the ground. The growth of these plants is further observed using geo-tagging technology. Marut ZAP is the AI-based offering used for mosquito eradication, water hyacinth removal, and prediction of mosquito-borne diseases.
The Marut Agri drones are used to spray fertilisers and pesticides over agricultural lands, as a step towards safe and sustainable farming.
Challenges along the way
Marut’s challenges included the initial adoption of technology, operational challenges, and hiring quality manpower. “All these problems can be directly or indirectly addressed by introducing drones and dronetech into the ecosystem,” Prem says.
Marut has partnered with the Telangana government to start a dronetech training academy to create a talent pool that would benefit the larger ecosystem.
On March 14, 2020, Marut Dronetech signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the ITE and C Department of Telangana, along with Asia Pacific Flight Training Academy, to create a UAV Training Ecosystem.
Marut has been closely associated with various projects in collaboration with the state government of Telangana. While mostly targeting various government bodies, it is equally open to individual customers. Its team is in touch with universities, corporate firms and research centres, and is looking forward to acquiring new projects.
The flying club
The drone industry in India is still in its nascent stage. According to Investindia.gov, a recent report by FICCI and EY projected that the Indian UAV industry would be around $885.7 million, while the global market size would touch $21.47 billion, by 2021.
Some of the dronetech startups to watch out for in the Indian ecosystem include IdeaForge, Aero360, BubbleFly, Asteria Aerospace, Drona Aviation, Skylark Drones, and Edall Systems.
However, Prem explains the differentiator. “The problems we are tackling are starkly different from what other companies are addressing.”
In these unprecedented times, Marut’s foremost priority is to raise enough funds to make sure that its team is taken care of, while it continues its fight against the novel coronavirus. Marut has applied for the ACT Grant, and is reaching out to a few investors to raise funds.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)