Drone start-ups are also focusing policing, land-surveys, aerial photography, real-time videos

From agriculture to wedding-photography drones are all set to fly high in IndiaA drone being flown in the DPCI meet
news Wednesday, September 09, 2015 - 18:37

Do you remember that scene in 3 Idiots, the 2009 Bollywood movie in which Amir Khan flies an object, which looks like a miniature of a helicopter with an attached camera, with a remote control? In 2009, those things – we hadn’t quite learned the word drones yet – were a novelty. Now it is a global rage, being used by serious researchers as well as playful kids. And here in India, drone-entrepreneurs are coming up with innovative applications of the drones.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), as drones are called in the military parlance, were initially used by the military and government agencies to patrol borders, scout property and locate fugitives and bomb them. But the drone is being increasingly domesticated.

Governments of many countries including India are working on developing the regulations, guidelines to make sure drones are safe for commercial use, as the floodgates open to the use of UAVs. In fact, Australia and New Zealand, have given shape to a vibrant market for drones.

Drone manufacturing companies and pilot training centers for many industries are mushrooming across India too. Agriculture is one sector where the use of drones is already creating a revolution in India.

Chennai based Avere Consults headed by Syed Razik and Narain Rajagopalan  are working on building drones that would help agriculture.  "Airpod", a drone that the 20-month old company has built, would be used for spraying fertilizers and pesticides for standing crops. They say that a significant amount of time and labour costs could get saved due to the process.  The company already manufactures drones and is only waiting for clarity on government regulations.

“We are a part of the national policy rule making process. We are aiming at a model similar to that of the US, which has exempted agriculture from the regulatory draft that they have just come out with. The first draft of the regulations has been presented to the Director General of Civil Aviation. We are expecting the regulations to be issued by March 2016.”

Syed Razik says, "Our service would come as a relief for an Indian farmer, who struggles to control his input and output costs, as we charge 60% less than what manual spraying costs. The drones are built for carrying containers and won't fly higher than 15 feet."

"A drone can do the job of spraying which requires a minimum of three people. Every year a farmer can save a minimum of Rs.5000 per acre. The drone stores data of every mission. A farmer might know when the land was last sprayed, but Airpod will give information about how much was sprayed in each part of the land." Razik added.

Drone start-ups are also focusing on other key sectors - policing, land-surveys, aerial photography, real-time videos which look bright for the drone market.

34-year old Maryala Srinivas from Hyderabad started a drone manufacturing venture in May 2014, Carving Notions Technologies. Their portfolio of designs has 12 different types of drones for various applications to use in industries.


Maryala Srinivas, Founder of Carving Notions Technologies

"Some of our most appreciated designs have been the Sanjeevani, an air-ambulance which can carry a medical kit to the accident site to provide first aid before the ambulance can come and the E-Nose drone which is designed to detect gas pipeline leakages. We have also designed student friendly trainer kit for engineering colleges," said Srinivas.

Like Avere Consult's Airpod, Srinivas has designed Kisan, a pesticide sprinkler drone.

"We are working on designing a drone with a thermal camera, which would scan the agricultural fields for pests and check the crop condition. These drones can fly higher which can help check for pests in coconut trees too,” he says.

The Hyderabad based start-up is simultaneously developing various advanced sensor modules and flight controllers which can be used in drones.

“We might start selling our products in a few months,” says Srinivas.

But, flying drones require technical expertise, which requires training.

A practical session during a DPCI meet

Razik of Avere Consults says, “Before we start any mission, the drone goes through a series of checks similar a pilot of an aircraft. We check whether the battery is charged, make a way path or route map etc. The drone would alert us if there is a problem with the functioning."

Recognising the importance of training and technical knowledge, Srinivas has started the Drone Piloting Club of India to share the knowledge with drone enthusiasts to build and fly drones. The club conducts free workshops.

Members of DPCI club in a practical session on construction and drone flying techniques

Usage of drones in weddings is a trend that is picking up, just like how candid photography took us by storm few years back.  “Drone videography is a different experience in itself. One might think it is similar to High-Definition camera mounted on a jib crane, until they see the video. The drones manage to take some of the most impossible shots." says Sharmilla from Wedding Bells photography.

Sharmilla, a Bengaluru-based photographer has included drone videography in the list of services for the last five years. "People want their weddings to be a spectacle. Drone-videography has some constraints. Wedding space rented out must be large, especially in terms of height. Unlike jib cranes, drones cannot carry heavy cameras. So we have to find a camera that is lighter," she says.

However, governments have realised the security implications and dangers to flying aircrafts by allowing unrestricted use of drones by the general public. Since the drones can follow any flight path of their choosing including the altitude, they could pose problems and dangers to flying aircrafts. In fact, a month back, the pilots of commercial aircrafts flying into Mumbai were witness to many flying objects close to the airports, which turned out to be drones. In another instance, one of the drones flew over the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, in Mumbai, which is a high security area and is a "No Fly Zone". Similarly is the case in the US, which reported quite a few incidents of drones exposing commercial aircrafts to serious risks by coming too close.

Recognising that drones are indeed useful in many ways but at the same time its use is fraught with risks, unless it is regulated, Governments in many countries including India is ​working on framing regulations for their use.