Saviour or Frankenstein?

Unmanned aerial vehicles can provide services in numerous civil applications, such as agriculture, weather monitoring,  crime prevention among others.

Published: 29th May 2018 11:02 PM  |   Last Updated: 30th May 2018 04:07 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

Unmanned aerial vehicles can provide services in numerous civil applications, such as agriculture, weather monitoring,  crime prevention among others. However, there is a dark side to them. Sans accountability, drones can be used to spy on targeted individuals, transport banned substances and pose a threat to life and property. We explore

HYDERABAD: Some fancy apparel sold by a retailer at the other end of the country has caught your attention on an ecommerce portal. You click on buy, and it gets delivered to you within a few hours! If everything goes according to plan, this could be a reality in the next couple of years!

Drone technology is growing at a rapid pace across the world. And Hyderabad is fast emerging as the ‘drone capital’ of the country, with global solutions provider Cyient and civilian drone manufacturer DJI joining hands to hold ‘Hackathon 2018’ in the city in February. Nearly 617 proposals were received for the event, with the winning solution developed by Team Women & Drone Force comprising Pragnya Kondrakunta, Fatima, and Swapna Bhandari from Hyderabad, who developed a prototype to promote women’s security. Their solution identifies when a victim needs help by sending real-time alerts to a control station and registered guardians. The control station then immediately deploys an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to the victim’s location, ensuring immediate, preventive action.

A report by market intelligence and advisory firm BIS Research states that by 2021, the market for UAVs in India would amount to over $885 million.

“Smart cities enabled with drone technology can empower city agencies by delivering rapid and efficient services to citizens. Drone technology has a wide range of applications, including surveillance, healthcare, disaster management and property mapping,” says PwC India Government Sector Leader Neel Ratan.
With a view of formalising a legislation, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has come up with a draft guideline in November 2017 that lists the requirements for the operation of Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS).

However, as with all technologies, there are pros and cons. Who would be responsible if two drones happen to collide despite following their respective flight paths? Would the drone owner or operator be liable for goods that get damaged in transit? If a drone malfunctions and crashes, causing damage to property or life, can the victims expect speedy compensation?

Also, there is the risk of commercial drones flying in the vicinity of an airport colliding with a passenger airliner either during take-off or landing, which can prove to be catastrophic. This issue was highlighted by International Air Transport Association in a joint statement issued a few months ago.

Then there is the larger concern of privacy. While smart TVs and virtual assistants can record conversations inside your home, outside, drones might just hover around you, capturing all your physical activities and thus providing a near-accurate profile to the drone operator. Given that India doesn’t yet have a separate legislation governing data privacy, the concerns seem terrifying enough to warrant immediate attention.

Another issue surrounding the technology is hacking. Cyber security researchers have showcased ways to ‘crash’ a drone, take over its communication software and make it travel to unauthorised locations, etc. Security must be integrated into the design of the product, opine experts.
All said and done, exciting times are ahead in terms of technology, what say?

List of applications

  • Agriculture: Field analysis to plant seeds, deployment of sprinklers for pests, tracking growth cycle, etc.
  •  Disaster management: Assisting in search and evacuation missions,
  • assessing structural damage and providing food, water to the affected
  • Medical emergencies: Drones fitted with emergency kits can travel to the particular location and assist in first aid
  • Property mapping: Drones fitted with high-resolution cameras can draw a 3-D map of buildings, providing details such as built-up area and number of floors
  • Monitoring: Checking water bodies for pollution levels. They can also be used to monitor crowds during large gatherings. They also help in analysing weather through pattern recognition
  • Mining: Inspecting, mapping and surveying of open-cast mines

Civil RPA as per max  take-off weight
Nano: Less than or equal to 250 grams
Micro: Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg
Mini: Greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg
Small: Greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg
Large: Greater than 150 kg
(With inputs from a PwC report ‘Drones: A smart solution for smart cities’ released recently)

— Shyam Yadagiri
shyam@newindianexpress.com
@shyamyadagiri

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