India’s indigenous drones to fly, but concerns remain, experts say


With a growing native base of manufacturers, India‘s drone industry could play an important role in public services such as agriculture, defense, health care and infrastructure maintenance in the future, experts say, while also highlighting some concerns about the safety and privacy of these unmanned aerial vehicles.

Drones are pilotless mini-planes that are operated by a remote control and can be accessed through simple devices such as a smartphone app.

These unmanned vehicles require much less effort, time and energy and can reach distant and difficult terrains while being controlled remotely by one person.

The popularity and adoption of drone technology is catching up in all regions and sectors and India is no exception. Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said last month that India will need about one lakh drone pilots in the coming years.

To showcase the potential of the indigenous drone industry, India recently hosted its largest drone festival in the national capital.

Bharat Drone Mahotsav, a two-day event held in the capital on May 27-28, saw more than 1,600 delegates including government officials, foreign diplomats, PSUs, private companies and drone startups etc. as participants.

The companies exhibited unmanned vehicles ready for areas such as defense, agriculture, surveying, while also demonstrating futuristic advanced projects where the drones would play a greater role, from transporting patients in emergencies to delivering goods and essentials to mass level.

New Delhi-based drone maker Theta Enerlytics and Vega Aviation Products showcased their endurance and hardbody drones at the festival.

“These drones can be used for a variety of purposes, such as agriculture, forest management services, city and town planning services, revenue and planning departments, police forces, smart cities within the public sector and industries, power plants, mining companies, construction companies to a few,” said Karan DhaulChairman and Co-Founder, Theta Enerlytics.

“Our drones are made of complete composite materials that allow for a longer flight time than any other drone in their class. Our Theta Falcon can fly for up to 150 minutes in a single flight and can carry up to 1 kilogram of sensors and payloads,” Dhaul told PTI.

He noted that ‘Theta Falcon’ is ideal for card applications, surveillance and border security. The drone takes off vertically like a helicopter and then goes into level flight like an airplane.

Another drone on display at the festival, ‘Hexacopter Theta Lotus’, can carry a payload of up to 10kg in ideal conditions and can also be used for stringing guide wires for transmission lines, cable car bridges and aerial tramways.

“The Lotus can fly for up to 70 minutes on a single charge,” said Dhaul.

Many drones on display at the festival have a specific and strong use case and will thrive due to the fast-growing demand in the country, Suhas said. Chandakowner of Karnataka-based Vega Aviation Products.

“In India, drone companies are already providing services worth 100 crores and are about to grow tenfold,” Chandak told PTI.

Drone technology expert Dharmendra Singh agreed, saying that there is a huge market and demand for drones in the country coming very soon.

“Now a lot of private players are coming into this field, which will surely reduce the cost of the drones and the services of the drones for various applications,” said Singh, professor in the Department of Electronics & Communications Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee told PTI.

“So it is possible that in the near future India will have very cost-effective services in various places such as agriculture, delivery system, project monitoring, health sector, etc.”, he added.

As India aims to become a global hub for drone technology by 2030, Singh said highly stable and accurate drones with good coverage capacity can play an important role in public services.

The professor noted that India has sufficient infrastructure, a good supply chain and excellent technical capacity to deploy drones, but some concerns remain.

“Privacy, covert monitoring or espionage and collisions of the drones are some of the concerns that could hinder their large-scale deployment,” he added.

Chandak said the government is well aware of these issues and zoning the country into green, orange and red zones has allayed most of the fears and concerns, especially those surrounding privacy.

“However, as an industry, we need to ensure faultless protection against equipment failure or human error, as a single accident can change the fate of any operator,” Chandak said.

“As a deterrent to rogue drones, it would be helpful if the government facilitated the indigenous production and deployment of anti-drone systems and jammers to help protect infrastructure from anti-social elements,” he added.

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