As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens despite the lockdown, it has become critical to observe and reinforce social distancing norms even more. With some people not complying with rules despite the urgency of the situation, are there additional measures that can be taken to ensure they stay at home? Perhaps unmanned drones can serve as an effective solution.
This is a great opportunity that lies in these unmanned drones to combat the coronavirus pandemic and maintain the health and safety of the Indian population. What is more, with the latest developments around COVID-19 coming to the fore, the utility of drones across several areas is being recognized by the government.
The good news is that the government has been expediting regulatory processes when it comes to operating drones for long-range commercial operations. The Indian government’s Digital Sky platform has registered all companies in the drone space, along with voluntary registration of all drone operators in the country. This coincides with the drone POCs, taking it a step further to make drones ready for commercial use.
Last year, DCGA approved seven companies to conduct POCs for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights. The selected seven companies included Dunzo, Swiggy, Zomato, Zipline, Redwing, Tata Advanced Systems and Honeywell for long-range experimentation in low altitude over scarcely populated places in India for a few months.
With the objective of boosting the capabilities of the drone industry in this time of crisis, the Indian government has been finalizing the statutes; with the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) recently approving a hyperlocal delivery company Dunzo to finish testing their long-range drone logistics solutions. Dunzo will begin testing beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone deliveries by the end of April, as per media reports. This is in contrast with the stance held by the government earlier, where drones were seen as a security threat.
Post India’s directorate general of civil aviation (DCGA) began regulations on drones in 2019, and this was seen as a significant milestone. But the policy on drones got delayed until May 2019, when the government finally invited invitations on proof of concepts around drone technology for commercial operations like logistics or medical deliveries.
The fact that DCGA shortlisted India’s three major delivery companies – Zomato, Swiggy and Dunzo – implies that the government is seeing the potential of drones in logistics and delivery services, especially during the ongoing lockdown.
Delivering Essential Packages Via Drones In India
If the COVID-19 situation worsens, drones may very well be used to deliver essential packages across the nation, and particularly in difficult terrains and viral hotspots. Also, Redwing and Zipline have been cooperating with state governments to transport drugs and medical items to distant places.
Research released by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center had shown that deploying unmanned drones to transport vaccines for diseases like Malaria, Zika or childhood vaccines in poor-and middle-income nations may conserve funds and advance overall vaccination rates.
Other use cases for drones include aerial survey, traffic monitoring, security and surveillance, as well as crowd management. For purposes such as atmospheric monitoring, crisis response, or transport of medicines, autonomous drones can be marshalled to help those in need, without risking human agents.
Drone deliveries including food, medicines or emergency support can be organized, accomplished and monitored remotely by drone operating companies. This would guarantee suitable assistance to rural areas and isolated communities. Drones, which are attached to speakers, can be used to warn the public. These can also collect and monitor live video feeds of specific locations where there is an apparent risk of transmission.
Drone startups in India are working alongside authorities providing services such as disinfecting contaminated areas, managing crowds and delivering medical supplies. For example, the Karimnagar Commissionerate of Police in Telangana recently used drones to ensure effective implementation of lockdown in the town. But, these have not yet been approved for commercial purposes. This is expected to change with recent updates brought in with Digital Sky platform and commercial POCs from companies like Dunzo.
As the government works on getting all drone manufacturers and users listed on the Digital Sky platform, this will also open up the drone economy for e-commerce and pharmaceutical companies to deliver quick orders soon. Under this, registered drones with approved specifications can apply for a permit to fly on the Indian government’s Digital Sky platform.