India eases restriction to use Drones, launched GAURD to fight Covid-19 pandemic

indica News Bureau-

The Ministry of Civil Aviation and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have launched the GARUD portal to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The objective of the GARUD (‘Government Authorisation for Relief Using Drones’) portal is to assist Government entities in seeking exemption from Government of India for COVID-19 related RPAS operations.The platform will provide fast track exemptions to government agencies for using drones in their operations against the pandemic. GARUD or ‘Government Authorization for Relief Using Drones’ was developed by the National Informatics Centre in eight days.

According to Ministry of Civil Aviation drones are unmanned vehicles which can fly the way helicopters do and can be operated by trained personnel using specially designed remote control. Drones which were specially designed for spraying pesticides for agricultural use are now being used for spraying disinfectant fluid around Quarantined areas and Isolation wards during COVID- 19 pandemic situation.

Moreover, the government has allowed all the government agencies to use either their own drones or use ones offered by third-party providers which are mostly startups. To use drones during Covid-19 pandemic the ministry has provided exemptions to government agencies by changing Rule 160 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, for easy and fast approvals for drone usage, any government department can apply for these exemptions on the GARUD platform.

Beyond the temporary use cases, the government is now looking at ways to regulate the tech, faster. Recently, a group of students from Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, developed a drone with an automated sprayer, which can sanitize public places, roads, and footpaths to prevent the spread of the virus, Inc24 reported.

Interestingly, the student-run startup called ‘Racerfly,’ founded by Anant Mittal, claims to have completed disinfecting a public place in less than 15 minutes using a single drone, the task usually takes 1-2 days of physical work employing 100 people. The startup has now approached the Assam and Uttarakhand governments offering to join the fight against the pandemic.

However, the government has also put restrictions on these exemptions. For instance, the government will provide permission to only battery-operated drones or remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs). Permission won’t be granted to autonomous and fixed-wing RPAs.

The order also makes the organization responsible for ensuring the safe operations of RPAs. Operations involving RPAs are to be conducted under the supervision of authorized entity while not risking lives, property, or any other aircraft.

According to the rules, all the drones should have a valid unique identification number (UIN) or drone acknowledgment number (DAN) issued by the DGCA. The agency using the RPAs will have to update the details of the drone on DGCA’s Digital Sky platform.

Moreover, the drones shouldn’t be weighing more than 25 KG and cannot pick up, drop, or spray any substance. This provision leaves authorities to use these drones for surveillance. Other restrictions include no flight before sunrise and after sunset. The government also imposed a height limit of up to 200 meters for the drones.

First up is a drone that sprays disinfectant over a wide area (certainly not the first of its kind). The quadcopter can carry 5 liters (about 1.3) gallons of disinfectant and spray from up to about 30 feet up. This allows the drone to sanitize an open area the size of a football field in about 5 minutes, says the army.

Using its own resources, though, the Corps can produce only two of these drones per week—in a country of about 1.35 billion people. However, the army tells news publication ThePrint that it is open to collaborations with private industry to ramp up output of the products it designs.

Besides surveillance, many drone startups in India are also looking to support the delivery of essentials. They are also being used to back on-ground medical staff. Pune and Silicon Valley-based FlytBase is offering drone services free to government officials until May 2020.

Moreover, Hyderabad-based Marut Drones is delivering medicines and collecting blood samples. It has also been deployed to spray sanitizer in the city. Recently, the DGCA also allowed hyperlocal delivery provider Dunzo and Bengaluru-based drone maker Throttle Aerospace Systems to test their long-range drone delivery solutions. These startups are also expected to deliver groceries via drones in the near future.

As governments, frontline healthcare and law enforcement across the world strive to provide relief, services and tighten vigilance in the times of social distancing for Covid-19, drones are playing multiple roles. It seems, authorities now have a 20/20 vision on the eye in the sky and India isn’t far behind.

China’s example of using drones to control the pandemic’s spread by assigning the crucial tasks of sanitizing public places, delivering medical supplies and police force was replicated by Spain and South Korea. Waking up to the novel use of drone tech, India also deployed unmanned aerial vehicles in cities and crowded suburbs to monitor the situation. While Gujarat Police is using 200 drones across the state to monitor people’s movements, Delhi Police has deployed them to ensure people follow social distancing in Asia’s largest fruit and vegetable wholesale market Azadpur Mandi. Municipal authorities in Madurai are utilizing them to disinfect areas near the coronavirus wing of a city hospital.

Similarly, Mumbai-based IdeaForge has helped police departments in nine states, including Maharashtra, Delhi, Guwahati and Assam among others to provide quick response to healthcare authorities, law enforcement for surveillance and medical logistics.  “Most importantly, we are able to provide a boost to the force as they enable authorities to cover a larger area with the same manpower,” said Kruthi Aramanamada, a marketing executive at IdeaForge.

Remote-controlled UAVs allow media organizations to shoot videos or click photographs and cover various aspects of the lockdown. For instance, The Times of India’s Chennai supplement on Sunday posted online a The 5-minute video, which was shot using drones, showing how the once-bustling city has come to a standstill during the lockdown, reported News18.

A senior executive of a news organization said the media companies in India generally use “micro drones”, which weigh between one to two kgs. “The drones are registered with the central government. Before deploying them, a news organization generally takes permission from the local police department,” the executive said. News organizations also make sure that while recording a video, the drone does not enter any restricted areas like an airport’s airspace, etc, the executive noted.

Currently, a lot of drone startups are developing solutions to pitch into the national effort against the coronavirus pandemic, where drones are being used to solve real-world problems.

“With every crisis, there is an opportunity,” said Neel Mehta, co-founder, and director, at Asteria Aerospace, robotics and artificial intelligence company, which develops drone-based solutions to provide actionable intelligence from aerial data. Reliance acquired a major stake in the company last year.

Mehta said that the pandemic has hampered daily operations of businesses as they fear the risk of infection, therefore, they are all turning to drones to perform various tasks.

“Going forward, this period will give people to experiment with drones, which will help authorities and industry stakeholders in developing enormous use cases and deploy standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place to effectively use drones in the country,” Mehta added.

Bengaluru-based Asteria provides drone solutions to military, paramilitary and police forces. Now, it offers end-to-end drone solutions across industries, including oil and gas, mining, construction, logistics and agriculture among others.

In 2018, after the ministry of civil aviation allowed the commercialization of drones, where companies or users have to abide by the rules and regulations of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), interest from enterprise applications peaked. For instance, construction, logistics, agriculture, oil and gas and telecom witnessed a massive requirement to deploy drones to optimize their resources and leverage 3D mapping, delivery mechanism and data harvesting among others.

At the same time, software tools that work closely with integrating technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and big data to make sense of the data collected by drones can be a game-changer. In addition to this, training schools and institutions that certify people to operate drones professionally will also pick up. “These are the major trends which we will be seeing right now, and in the coming years,” explained Asteria’s Mehta