Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Drones will save human lives, but pizza delivery, not now

India’s new drone policy has generated huge excitement. But ‘blood before burritos,’ say experts

India liberalised the drone policy and rules so dramatically recently that there has been an explosion in interest in using drones to solve a variety of problems. New ventures are emerging in the space. Older ones in allied areas like electronic devices are getting into it. And those who had started working on drones a few years ago – when India had an extremely strict policy – suddenly find themselves sitting on a potential goldmine.

Public imagination has been captured by the idea of pizzas and e-commerce packages being delivered to people’s homes by drones. But that will likely take years, if at all, said Amit Ganjoo, founder & CEO of Washington-based drone company ANRA Technologies, at the Times Techies Webinar last week. Dense Indian cities will make it particularly difficult. Where drones will make the biggest early difference is in areas like mining, telecom, agriculture, disaster management, and healthcare. Here, drones will help reduce accidents and deaths, reach areas humans can’t – or will find difficult to – and ensure faster medicine and organ deliveries.

“I have a friend who uses the term `Blood before burritos.’ The humanitarian areas where drones help will probably precede any commercial ones,” Ganjoo said.

Mughilan Ramasamy, who cofounded Skylark Drones in 2015, agreed. He said a lot of human lives are lost when people climb up to inspect and take measurements of things like power lines and cellphone towers. Today, drones, with intelligence embedded in them, can do the same thing far more easily. “Drones bring extremely high efficiencies, can’t even be compared to manual ways. We want to unlock the economic potential of the sky,” said Ramasamy, whose company has developed a software platform that allows varied industries to use drones in the specific ways they need, and to draw insights from the data that the drones capture.

But drones involve complex technology. Mainly because safety standards, like in general aviation, have to be very high. If you are driving a car and something happens, you can pull over to the side. In aviation, something happens, there’s no side road to pull over to. “One incident can make the industry take a step back. It’s different when you do visual line of sight operations (where the drone remains in your sight), or fly in rural areas. But when you start doing flights in dense urban areas, or flying beyond visual line of sight, you have to factor in ground risk, air risk, contingency management,” said Ganjoo.

10/11/21 Shilpa Phadnis & Sujit John/Times of India

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