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Drone Technology

Context: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has successfully conducted a trial run of delivery of blood bags under its iDrone initiative.

What is Drone Technology?

  •  A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle that receives remote commands from a pilot or relies on software for autonomous flight.
  • Classification of Drones Based on Weight:
    • Nano drone: less than or equal to 250 grams;
    • Micro drone: greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kilograms
    • Small drone: greater than 2 kilograms and less than or equal to 25 kilograms
    • Medium drone: greater than 25 kilograms and less than or equal to 150 kilograms.
    • Large drone: greater than 150 kilograms.

What are the Applications of Drones?

  • Agriculture
    • Crop and soil health monitoring
    •  Irrigation estimation and scheduling
    •   Requirement and efficacy assessment of fertilizer and pesticide spraying
    •  Anti-locust operations
    •  Crop output estimates
    • River and canal erosion; restoration tracking
    • Insurance claim surveys
  • Healthcare
    • Delivery of medicines, equipment and other supplies
    • Pathology tests – sample collection from remote or epidemic/ pandemic affected areas
  • Defence
    • Security Surveillance
    • Combat
    • Communication in remote areas
    • Swarm drone solutions
    • Counter drone solutions
  • Mapping
    • Land records and property rights
    • The drone technology in the SVAMITVA scheme launched by the Government of India helped village residents get their property cards by mapping out the abadi areas.
  • Surveillance: Surveillance, situational analysis, public announcements and evidence gathering for:
    • Security of sensitive installations
    • Raids and counter-terror operations
    • Crowd management
    •  Crime control
    • VVIP security
    • Disaster management; search and rescue
    • Traffic management
  • Housing
    • Urban planning and management
    • Construction planning and monitoring
    •  Incident reporting
    •  Prevention of encroachment and land-use alteration
  • Environment:
    • Monitoring of forests and wildlife
    • Afforestation through seed-balls, irrigation and real-time monitoring
    •  Anti-poaching actions
    • Pollution assessment and evidence-gathering

Government of India’s Initiatives for Promoting Drone Technology

  • Liberalised Drones Rules, 2021:  These provide the necessary regulatory framework for commercial use of drones.
    • Compliances and fees required to operate drones have been reduced.
    • The need for a security clearance before any registration or issuance of licence has been dispensed with.
    • R&D entities have been provided blanket exemption from all kinds of permissions.
    • Restrictions on foreign-owned companies registered in India have also been removed.
  • Drone Response and Outreach in North East (i-Drone) Initiative:  It facilitates vaccine delivery to tough and hard-to-reach terrains of India. The i-DRONE was first used during the COVID-19 pandemic by the ICMR for distributing vaccines to remote areas.
  • Drone Shakti initiative: It aims to promote and facilitate drones as a service through start-ups.
  • Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme for Drones: The objective of this scheme is to incentivize the manufacturing of drones and drone components in India with a focus to make the indigenous’ industries globally competitive.
    • Support under the scheme will be provided only to companies engaged in the manufacturing of drones and drone components in India.
    •  PLI scheme for drones can generate investment of over Rs 5,000 crore and 10,000 direct jobs in India’s drone manufacturing sector till FY24.
    • The PLI scheme is also expected to boost the total turnover of the domestic industry to Rs 900 crore in FY24.
  • Drone Import Policy:  The Indian Government has banned the import of drones except for R&D, defence and security purposes.  The move is aimed at giving a boost to domestic manufacturing of drones.
  • Make in India: The Government’s ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ (Make-in-India) drive is going all out to support domestic enterprises by fine-tuning policies and regulations so that more and more products are manufactured within the country.
  • Drone Training Schools: These have been set up in various States which have the potential of being a game changer in the promotion and development of drone applications.

What are the Challenges Associated with Drones?

  • Safety of the Public: In a case of an accident, the drone may fall in a residential area and injure the public. Military drones have crashed and caused huge damages in these areas.
  • Increased drone attacks: Drones are relatively cheaper in comparison to conventional weapons and yet can achieve far more destructive results which is the primary reason for increased number of drone attacks.
  • Delivery of Mass Destruction Weapons: Combat drones are most dangerous as they can be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
  • Use in Attacks: The potential use of drones in a terrorist incident or attack against a critical infrastructure and soft targets is a growing concern for law enforcement agencies worldwide.
  • Safety of Drone: There is a possibility of losing the package carried by the drones. Hackers can hijack a Drone using GPS jammers and loot the Drone or its payload. Softwares resistant to hacking have to be developed.
  • Swarm Drones: Swarm drones have been a problem for military where scores of drones overwhelm and confuse detection systems, resulting in some of the drones sneaking through.

Way Forward

  • Drones can be significant creators of employment. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, Indian agriculture can help boost the country’s GDP by 1-1.5% and create at least five lakh jobs in the coming years.
  • To leverage the benefits of drone technology, India needs to invest in its own Unmanned Aerial Vehicle systems.
  • Though the Defence Research and Development Organisation has developed a detect-and-destroy technology for drones, but it is not yet into mass production.
  • Establishment of an inter-ministerial committee on drones is necessary for fostering better coordination among various ministries.
  • There needs to be more initiatives by the private sector such as Drone Yatra 2.0 by Garuda Aerospace that aim at spreading awareness about the opportunities for skilled drone pilots/maintainers.
  • It can be concluded that drones can lead to economic growth due to their reach, versatility, and ease of use, especially in India’s remote and inaccessible areas.
  • In view of its traditional strengths in innovation, information technology, frugal engineering and huge domestic demand, India has the potential to be global drone hub by 2030.

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