COVID-19 is not going to go away any time soon. Vaccines will make only a marginal difference in how people live and act in the post-pandemic world. Social distancing is the new norm given just how dangerous the virus is and, in this light, one should take a look at drone technologies and applications in India.
The Drone Or UAV
Most people perceive drones in different ways. The most visible example is that of drones being used in photography. However, there are larger, unmanned remote-controlled drones used for military and, in recent times, for small packages delivery. Drones do fall under regulatory ambit and are restricted in many countries, especially India. Given this situation and that Covid necessitates remote operations, one can see a promising future for the application of drones. The market for drones in India is worth over $ 900 million, and it could shoot up if drones were put to practical use. The figure for India is minuscule compared to the global market worth $ 21.47 billion.
Drones For Surveillance
Covid spreads when crowds gather, and people do not take precautions. In some cities, some places see a high rate of congestion. There is no way authorities can take any action or monitor such instances except by drones. It is not just crowd surveillance and monitoring; drones can replace precious human personnel resources to keep track of operations in petrochemicals and manufacturing, and agriculture. Doing so has the benefit of using existing personnel for better use, keeping them safe, and saving costs along the way.
What Can Be Done?
Examining the situation on the ground, especially in rural and far-flung areas and large urban aggregations, is different. Drones can be put to good use with thermal scanners and video cameras to identify possible suspect patients and help authorities to segregate such patients.
Delivery Through A Drone
COVID has upset supply-side operations, especially in the matter of food supplies, essentials, and medical supplies. It has also introduced urgency into supplies of medical necessities like medications and protective pieces of equipment needed by service providers spread out over vast areas. Urgent needs can easily be met by the use of drones for delivery, as Amazon contemplates doing. It can save lives. Drones can land and take off from anywhere—just a bit of flat surface is enough, unlike what you need for helicopters or aircraft. Drones can travel fast within a defined radius, certainly faster than surface transport and, more to the point, reach where roads are not present.
Think of people marooned in water due to floods and incessant rains. Drone delivery is just perfect for such situations too. Amazon may start a drone delivery system in the US. It can also be used in India for doorstep delivery at speed and without risk of disease transmission, plus precise timing as dictated by the buyer. In India, it is heartening to note, Zomato and Tata Steel are considering the possibility. Specific to Covid, drones are deployed in Rwanda through Zipline to deliver medicines and test kits and collection and delivery of test samples.
Huge Potential But Major Roadblocks
Drones have great potential. You can use them for telemedicine, spray and disinfect areas, or deliver much-needed urgent items. However, as far as India is concerned, roadblocks such as the 2014 ban on drones’ civilian use are concerned. Four years later, the government issues a regulatory policy to place stringent compliance requirements for drone operators. If a drone operator does not obtain permission, they cannot fly their drones, and drones must have hardware/software modes to meet regulations.
Just how useful are drones? A lot is the answer. In Nagpur, drones were used to monitor 13 crore plantations carried out by the Indian Forest department in 2018. The government is using 3D mapping in the Raebareli Allahabad highway project using drones.
The writing is on the wall: drone policy must change if we are to put this technology to humanity’s service and for Indians post the havoc caused by the coronavirus. If emerging countries like Africa can adopt drones, then why not India? Virtually all sectors such as health, planning, administration, agriculture, and commerce as well as disaster relief will benefit. As for future technologies in drones, these are likely to carry more power-dense battery for longer range operation and sophisticated AI-powered accessories and sensors that can be put to more purpose beyond visuals capture.