Will the new set of regulations result in drone technology taking off in India?

Drones began as geeky toys, went on to become a hobby, and then evolved over the years to offer plenty of applications in fields as diverse as films, photography, agriculture, infrastructure projects and defence. In India, the technology is yet to take off in a big way, with a three-year blanket ban on drones being lifted only recently. Regulations still prohibit the use of bigger drones outside the line of sight, which means you can’t use them for big applications, such as say, delivering medicines to remote locations. But manufacturers and users are hopeful about a second round of regulations coming into place, even as the first set on civilian use of drone technology comes into force. We spoke to industry insiders to find out the present and future of drones in India.

The sky as digital ‘platform’

Many startups that manufacture drones in India service the defence industry. They believe that the removal of a blanket ban and a set of regulations is a move in the right direction. Anshul Sharma, co-founder of Redwing Aerospace Laboratories, Bengaluru, says, “I think the regulations have been received well by the industry so far. Some issues need to be ironed out and the digital sky platform is still a work in progress. Bigger firms like Honeywell are also entering this field. As far as applications using drones are concerned, it has the potential to be a game-changer in areas such as infrastructure and agriculture. For instance, drones can help carry out surveys of infra projects much faster and we can use the technology to discover not only the crops grown in a specific region, but can also analyse the issues that the crop faces and help experts offer solutions. Some drones can tell us through images, the most successful mango trees in a field and help us analyse the reasons why it yields more fruit than other trees and so forth, all this within a day or two. It can also be used by hospitals to deliver important medicines and blood to remote locations.”

These advanced applications can only happen once the second set of regulations comes into place, says Karan Kamdar, the president of the Indian Drone Racing League (IDRL), a community that organises drone-racing events across the country. “Drone companies will have to build new drones or provide new hardware that can be plugged into existing drones, connecting them to the digital sky platform. Till the digital sky platform is set in place, most companies who are going to operate drones in the micro category and above are bound to wait and watch,” he says. The group started as a small bunch of drone racers that has now grown to have not only include professional pilots, but also many others willing to learn to build and fly their own drones. “We use nano drones, so the regulations do not impact us much.”

Will the new set of regulations result in drone technology taking off in India?

 

Ankit Mehta, the co-founder of ideaForge Technology, says that a set of regulations is better than a blanket ban on any civilian use of drones. “The current set of regulations allows for the use of drones in the line of sight and a height of around 40 feet. That should help in surveying small agricultural plots and small infrastructure projects.”

Difficult strokes

Mumbai-based Pranshu Dubey runs pixeldo.com, an aerial photography service. He is not very happy with the bureaucratic red tape in the regulations. He points out, “On December 1, we checked the official website. The DGCA website is not working. We saw there were multiple flaws with the form to register our UAV; the form doesn’t allow us to enter or save the data. They’re not properly ready and they need to follow some timeline. Secondly, for training institutes, they provided a list of places — for example, for Mumbai, they gave the flying club. So some places will have certifications. We will have to approach these flying clubs to understand the scenarios for getting the certifications; is it chargeable? If there’s a training programme, what’s the time duration? I think December and January will be a confusing time because people haven’t been informed of the exact procedure or rules and regulations. Once they come up with something more definite, things are going to be better.”

Will the new set of regulations result in drone technology taking off in India?

 

He also says India has to catch up with manufacturing better quality equipment: “I haven’t seen a lot of Indian-made drones which match the quality and advancement of a machine like the DJI. It will take a long time for India to start catching up.” Hyderabad-based drone photographer and videographer Teja sv agrees. I don’t really use Indian-made drones and I personally haven’t seen a lot of names in the market except for international players like DJI. It will be nice to see a desi version of a drone though!”

Teja, who began making drone videos as a hobby, says the DGCA regulations are hard to comprehend for those starting out using a drone. “It’s not very motivating, especially when you compare them with the laws in the West. There, you don’t need the permission of the local police, but there are restrictions in special places. Here, you have to take permission every time you’re flying a drone, which is really hectic.”

He feels the demand will force the government to relook at the regulations. “With the boom in social media, there’s a huge amount of content creation by various people. There’s a constant need for newer visuals. A lot of people want drone footage in their clips. In films, I think we’ll see a lot more use of drones.”

h_tc

Leave a Comment