After DGCA’s (Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Govt. of India) April 21 circular regarding the use of UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) in India, hope has come to the industry. But the lack of a platform between the govt. and the industry is what is coming out to be a bigger problem.
Drones today can be purchased at prices as low as Rs. 3,000. If you wish to make your own and know from where to buy, you can assemble your own drone with decent flight performance in under Rs. 15,000. The parts, though imported from China, do not require any special permit to purchase in the open market. The control can be manual using a 2.4 GHz radio, or even use autopilot boards such as Ardupilot, DJI Naza, or 3DR Pixhawk. The flight can be controlled or be pre-programmed into these boards. The question of regulation is a bit funny in this regard then. To exercise absolute control, govt. will have to control the supply of the basic components such as motors, electronic chips, frames, etc. Such a regulatory regime is tough to implement and even tougher to maintain.
When the world is moving towards embracing new technology, we can’t be following this Ostrich. Drones are the future of tech whether we like or hate it. The quest of developing Smart Cities will involve large scale deployment of drone swarms. What is needed is a framework wherein the Drones can be effectively monitored but also the individual operators do not face too much of license-related issues. Unless the govt. lifts the shroud over the future of laws of uses of Drones in India, we cannot expect domestic investors, let alone FDI, to flow into the R&D of this tech in India.
Right from Fixed Wing UAVs, to Multirotors, the industry is buzzing with activity but the License Raj means that only very few get to operate. Today also the authorities do not have any effective mechanism to monitor drone flights round the clock. What is essentially needed here is a system similar to that of the Air Traffic Control, but only in a monitoring manner.
As per surveys, Drone Industry has the potential to grow into a market worth $15 billion by 2022, still a conservative figure by my estimate. Global players like DJI, 3DR, Parrot, etc, are taking the lead in R&D of drones with favorable policies being framed by the respective local authorities.With so much at stake, the over-cautious attitude will only harm us and we will be the last ones to board the bus on yet another crucial journey. The Drone Revolution, it is said, has only just begun. What we need is a thrust at R&D and an effective monitoring solution. Complete sealing of the skies is not a way forward in today’s fast-moving tech age.
Companies such as R2 Robotronics are developing such platforms which allow enterprises to monitor the deployment of their drone swarms at the click of a button without having to worry about the possibility of mid-air collisions of drones, as the system is programmed with a D-TCAS (Drone Terminal Collision Avoidance System), modeled on the TCAS of commercial airplanes. With their enterprise drone cloud platform it is extremely easy to deploy apps to process the data, drones keep sending to base and produce results on the fly.
The use of such a technology has huge benefits in both Civilian and Defense markets. Globally Defense industry is expected to be the biggest market for drones (accounting for more than 70% of sales). They can deploy swarms in surveillance, Counter-Insurgency, Offensive raids, etc. without having to risk any soldier’s life, while at the same time, not needing a drone pilot at the helm.
When companies are taking such steps forward, a controlled industry is really the last thing we should be seeing. Yes there are security concerns with drones, but they can be addressed if authorities and the industry sits down and talk.