The first-ever Drone Olympics Challenge held in the country at Yelahanka, Karnataka, organised jointly by the Ministry of Defence and the Drone Federation of India, has proved to be a massive boost for several drone-based startups, student teams and research organisations.
The event, hosted as part of the biennial show Aero India, challenged the capabilities of drones across three categories- surveillance, supply drop (delivery) and drone swarm respectively. Making Hyderabad proud at the event was the drone startup Thanos, incubated at IIIT (Hyderabad) that emerged a winner in the supply drop challenge category.
The drone developed by the Hyderabad-based team had carried a payload weighing 2 kg and delivered it to a particular location (over a distance of 2 km) without any human intervention. The Thanos team, with its in-house carbon-fibre based multicopter, had surmounted the challenge with immense precision.
This is only one dimension of the two-year-old startup, that comes with an impressive body of work, including the development of an agricultural spraying drone that efficiently disburses pesticides across agricultural fields and prevents a gamut of health hazards caused by human spraying. Their agriculture-oriented drones are capable of carrying a payload of 10 kg that can be disbursed in a flight time of about 20 minutes. This idea has already found takers in several districts of Telangana including Warangal, Yadadri, Bhadradri, and Nalgonda.
Delivery drone prototype
The Hyderabadi firm in an interaction with TNM, tells us what the win at the Drone Olympics Challenge means to them.
Pradeep Palelli, one of the co-founders of Thanos, quips, “Frankly, the main idea behind the participation in the competition, besides the visibility, was also the prize money (Rs 5 lakh). Through the process of designing the drone and winning the challenge, we had validated one application which we earlier hadn't planned to work on. We always knew we could build payload drones because of our experience in the agricultural sector, but building an autonomous payload delivery drone that delivers a product in a particular area and returns to the starting point was an interesting experience. That's the stuff global giants like Amazon and their counterparts were expected to do. It's definitely a feather in our cap.”
Their win has already opened them to several enquires from the defence sector.
The primary reason for the Ministry of Defence to organise an event of this scale was to identify grassroot level talents and minimise the country's dependence on US, Israel, Europe, and China with regard to defence applications.
“They (Ministry of Defence) were pleasantly surprised to know that their objectives were met. This is quite motivating for startups too. The recognition encourages us to develop more in-house defence applications,” shares Prathyush Akepati, another co-founder of Thanos. Besides, the challenge had provided them first-hand knowledge of what their competitors were up to, especially in the areas of swarm and surveillance drones with a long range.
Team Thanos owes its win and visibility considerably to its association with IIIT Hyderabad.
“The incubation has taken us closer to several research institutions and industries in the country, that co-working spaces aren't capable of. The space at the campus also enables a large field where we could do our testing. We've exchanged several intelligence inputs with the Robotics division at IIIT. Our proximity to T-Hub has additionally helped our cause,” they say.
Despite the surge in enthusiasm surrounding drones in the country, practical issues continue to be a curse for many drone enthusiasts to nurture their interests, thanks to negligible awareness surrounding the regulations (on the usage of drones) imposed by various state governments.
As a startup working in this sector, Thanos feels many inhibitions and myths about drone usage will gradually fade with time.
Prathyush with prize money
“Time will clear myths about what drones can and can't do. They can be extremely constructive too, even help pump seeds into the ground and promote afforestation. Companies across the world are also trying to build human-carrier drones. Most of it will come true, though time will take its own course,” Pradeep states.
Thanos is currently working on adding more intelligence to their drones, where the devices could get a vibe of a particular environment using sensors, ensure object detection and better avoidance of obstacles.
Srivathsan, a journalist by profession and an explorer by choice, finds purpose to his life through the books he digs into and the stories he writes. A walk in the park with music gives him a sense of calm while catching movies at the theatres week after week is a ritual he can't get enough of.