Friday, December 28, 2018

Drones can be a force for good, but fear of misuse is holding them back

Drones have proven to be game changers in the health-care space – the residents in the island nation of Vanuatu have very few airfields, paved roads or available refrigeration. Here, vaccine availability has been transformed by drone delivery. Applications extend to the delivery of life-saving medicines, blood packets and organs for transplant.

In India, another particularly useful example is in agriculture. Early assessment of crop health, better irrigation practices and even soil and field analysis can only improve agricultural practices across the board. With a number of state governments already using drones to assess and quantify crops and farmlands to try and predict water usage and expedite relief, it is clear that drone applications have more good to offer than popular hysteria would suggest.

However, all of these virtues fall by the wayside when incidents like the ones at Gatwick or HAL airports occur. In both of these cases, unauthorised drones hovering near the runway led to security concerns and disrupted operations. In the case of Gatwick, it resulted in the airport being shut down for 36 hours and hundreds of flights being cancelled, delaying and stranding thousands of passengers shortly before the start of the holiday season.
Examples like these are quickly used to make a case for banning drones citing security and safety concerns. Reasoning along these lines guided the regulation regime around the drone industry in India, which made it prohibitively difficult to for the industry grow or operate over the past two years.

But if we were to take a step back and evaluate – the issue in both of these incidents was not the drone itself, it was the unauthorised operation of drone flights and their use in restricted areas.

For a while now, the perception has been that drones and their abuse were inherently linked and creating a distinction between the two seemed impossible. Fortunately, this is what the new drone regime in India seeks to address.
The recently launched Digital Sky platform has come up with a technology platform for permitting and regulating drone flights and controlled airspaces. The innovative NPNT (No Permission No Take Off) system is the key component of this platform. It requires the operator of the drone to apply for permission to fly their drone/s on an online platform. This permission would require details of time of flight, drone specifications as well as the area in which it seeks to fly. The system then immediately generates the permission artefact if all the details sought are accepted.

With this artefact loaded on the drone, the drone will then be able to fly only if the actual flight parameters match the details in the permission sought. Simply put, this system ensures that drones cannot take-off at a time and place the authorities don’t want them to, regardless of the pilot’s intervention or intent. NPNT is designed to ensure safety and security at a very fundamental level so that incidents like the one in HAL and Gatwick can be prevented even before they occur.
28/12/18 First Post
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