Sunday, January 08, 2023

Drone deliveries poised for a big leap: Trials conducted in over 15 states

A couple of days before the New Year, an unidentified flying object crash-landed on the tracks of Delhi Metro’s Magenta Line. Blood was spilled; it was a drone that belonged to a Noida-based pharmaceuticals company, carrying a box filled with vials of blood.

 It’s a sign that a technology that seemed to belong in the pages of sci-fi only a few years back has entered India’s streets and skies. In fact, with nearly 10 times faster delivery and an equally larger area coverage, drones are rapidly becoming a common sight in Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and other states.   

 In September 2021, Telangana became the first state in India to use the drone technology to quickly deliver approved medicines to far-flung rural areas and vulnerable communities. This was under the “Medicine from the Sky” project, which used Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS) flights.

 The Arunachal Pradesh government, in partnership with Bengaluru-based Redwing Labs, which manufactures and operates drone logistics systems, also launched a fully functional health care drone network in East Kameng last August. Similarly, the Meghalaya government launched a drone delivery hub and network in November with the help of TechEagle, a drone tech start-up.

 In December 2022 online medicine delivery firm, Tata 1mg, also introduced a drone delivery service in Dehradun, and plans to expand the network to other cities of Uttarakhand, including Haridwar, Mussoorie, and Rishikesh.

 Besides Tata 1mg, several drone start-ups like TechEagle, Redwing Labs and Skye Air Mobility, a Delhi-based drone delivery logistics firm, are at the forefront of building dedicated drone delivery networks.

 These networks work on a hub-and-spoke model, where the delivery hub, like the one in Meghalaya, acts as a centre for storing and sorting packages, as well as maintenance, command, and control of drones. There are delivery locations or collection points in a particular radius of the hub -- the spokes. The Meghalaya hub, in Phase 1, runs on 25 such spokes in a radius of 50km.

Kundan Madireddy, the lead for partnerships at Redwing Labs, says, “The entire growth of the drone delivery ecosystem took place in the past 16 months, since the ecosystem was deregulated by the ministry of civil aviation in August 2022 via the new Drone Rules 2021. More than 15 states in India have conducted drone demonstrations and technical feasibility pilots since then.”

 So far, growth has been focused in rural and semi-urban locations owing to the ease of green zone regulations, Madireddy adds. “Large parts of urban India are in the red and yellow zones in regard to executing projects, and thus require extensive government permissions. More than 80 per cent of India is in the green zone -- largely in rural and semi-urban areas.”

08/01/23 Debarghya Sanyal/Business Standard

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