India’s drone companies are soaring in these 4 sectors

News: India’s latest drone rules have given a new life to operations in mining, energy, infrastructure and land records. Door-to-door drone delivery as a daily convenience may still be a bit in the future.

While drone delivery pilots have become bigger, commercial applications at a wider scale is yet to happen.

What are some recent events indicating a renewed activity in drone sector in India?

Medicine from the Sky: Telangana Govt, in partnership with NITI Aayog, World Economic Forum and Apollo Hospitals, organised a mega pilot ‘Medicine from the Sky’. Under this, several drone companies conducted more than 350 flights covering 850 Km over 45 days.

Swiggy, along with ANRA Technologies, conducted 100 hours of trials of food package delivery via drones in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh in June 2021.

Svamitva scheme: In April 2021, the Centre launched a scheme called Svamitva to map land parcels in rural areas using drones. So far drone surveys have been completed in more than 85,000 villages.

What are the reasons behind an increased activity in drone tech in India?

New Drone Rules: A large part of this optimism is driven by new Drone Rules that were notified on 25th Aug 2021. They made things simpler.

Now one can do test flights without any approval in green zones below 400 ft.

Perimeter of the yellow zone has been reduced from 45 Km to 12 Km around airports & clear demarcation for red zones has made a large part of the country a green zone.

Other policy changes:

On 3rd Nov, Mineral Conservation and Development (Amendment) Rules, 2021, were notified by the ministry. They mandate drone survey images for leases having an annual excavation plan of 1 million tonne or more or leased area of 50 hectares or more.

In June, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) made mandatory use of drones for monthly video recording of National Highway projects during all stages of development, construction, operation and maintenance.

What are the areas in which drone tech has developed over time?

The use of visual line of sight (VLOS) drone operations, where the remote pilot maintains continuous, unaided visual contact with the aircraft, has seen growth.

VLOS operations allow surveillance and mapping and surveying that have applications in mining, construction, energy, urban development and land records. For these operations, drones, derive their value proposition from high-accuracy data collection.

Companies are now also offering drone-as-a-service.

Agriculture sector: Drone companies are also working with farmer producer organisations to help them consolidate their operations.

How can drone tech help with rural healthcare?

Rural healthcare: Beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) solutions, which are flights beyond the visual range, can help address various rural healthcare because lower air and population densities in the countryside minimises operational risks.

For instance, a paradox that the health industry faces in remote areas is access versus wastage – Without stock supplies, lives are lost and with stocking, a lot of wastage happens. Faster and cheaper two-way last-mile connectivity between rural primary health centres and district supply hub and diagnostic centres can be the solution here.

What is the way forward?

– To help growth of the drone delivery industry, pricing has to be competitive with that of the general procurement system of the government.

– Also, delivering only emergency supplies may not allow companies to reach commercial viability. They may have to cross-subsidize that with routine healthcare delivery.

– Integration with the larger healthcare system requires training the local health personnel to safely load and unload payloads.

– Base infrastructure such as drone ports and corridors is needed in cities.

Source: This post is based on the article “India’s drone companies are soaring in these 4 sectors” published in Livemint on 15th Dec 2021.

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