Can drones be our front line heroes during a crisis?

Drones are one of the hottest pieces of upcoming consumer tech. The ability to experience flight and explore the surroundings from the comfort of your backyard has a clear appeal. However, these tiny flying robots also have a lot of non-recreational purposes — some of which can even help in emergencies.

India has only recently begun warming up to the idea of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This slower adoption is understandable considering the privacy and safety questions that arise. While enthusiasts are yet to find luck with them, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic might just be the catalyst that drones needed in India.

Drone primarily refers to an unmanned aerial vehicle. They come in small packages and can be controlled via a smartphone or a dedicated drone controller. They are becoming a serious business in India and startups from in the country are at the forefront in adopting latest technology.

Drones can be used in several scenarios. Beyond the obvious recreational purposes, they can be used to deliver essentials, medical equipment, and for a variety of uses in the current pandemic. They can be used for public surveillance, announcements, spot situation analysis, monitoring, etc.

In fact, it is in the lockdown timeframe that we saw the first wave of surveillance and monitoring come into action. Here’s how Indian startups are planning to use drones in emergency situations, and what we can expect from them in the future.

Why drones during an emergency?

Drones require minimal human interaction. A pilot can navigate the UAV to different locations and complete the task while staying safe and being miles away from the red zones.

In certain emergency situations such as a natural disaster or the lockdown, drones can be life savers. They can provide rapid awareness, help firefighters locate the hot spot during fire hazard, can be utilised in military operations, in transportation of organs, public surveillance, delivery of essentials and medicines. And, all of this can be achieved without any need for human contact, further reducing risk of life.

Why haven’t drones become mainstream in India?

Regulations around drones in India are a grey area. There are multiple overlapping laws, with more in the pipeline. This makes the ownership of drones a pretty complicated affair. According to the latest Civil Aviation Requirement drone policy, pilots in India need to get a NOC from a web portal for undertaking aerial survey with the final permission of DGCA.

All drones in the country must be registered on this portal. Information such as the drone’s dimensions and weight, owner’s Aadhar card and other essentials are recorded. A unique “digital number plate” will be created to track the drone in case of a mishap.

Legalities aside, there are also various other factors hindering the adoption of drones. Firstly, serviceable drones are not affordable. Anything with a decent range and a reliable camera burn a very large hole in the pocket. And the more capable they get, the more cost-prohibitive it becomes. There are very few authorized drone retailers in India who keep driving up the prices for the imported units.