How Drones Could Have A Big Impact On India

Putting the privacy and security of the citizens first, for the last couple of years, the Government of India had put a blanket ban on the use of drones a.k.a. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), as they’re officially called. But in August 2018, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation announced a new drone policy, which finally makes it legal to flying drones in India. According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, drone technology market is expected to reach $885.7 million by 2021. The size of this market in China is expected to be $9 billion by 2020 and globally it is already $127.3 billion. It’s clear with these numbers that we’re already late to the party, but once the policy comes to force, the growth of commercial drone use could be exponential.

When it comes to their usage, these birds have been underestimated. While we associate them with military, aerial photography, wedding photo shoot or other recreational purposes – these can be used in tons of other sectors like agriculture, real estate, disaster management, insurance, wildlife monitoring and the list is endless.

Want to fly a drone in India? Watch the WTD 101 to know how that’s done

Here are 5 purposes for which drones can be used in India:

1. Saving Lives

When drones were used in China to locate the survivors after an earthquake, 90% of the survivors were located within the first half an hour. In the Philippines, drones were used extensively by rescuers during the typhoon into scout out safe places where they could base their operations. During the California fires, the state fire agency used drones to collect data (like the direction in which the fire was moving) which the response team on the ground could not get.

Increasingly, around the globe, drones are being used during natural disasters to document property damage, pinpoint the locations of people in need of rescue or even locating pets. What makes drones attractive to search and seizure and rescues during disasters is they are weatherproof and can work efficiently in harsh weather conditions such snow, rain or wind and are insensitive to heat or cold. They can move around easily in the disaster zones, difficult terrain and hard to reach areas. Tasks which is ideally time-consuming, dangerous and sometimes impossible to be done manually. So instead of risking a pilot’s or crew’s life, these drones can be deployed. The camera attached to the drone can provide the rescuers with footage of the disaster and can quickly identify or map out the victims. An infrared camera which acts as a heat sensor can be used for accurate and precise detection of victims. All of this is done at a fraction of the cost of using a helicopter or plane. A plane used for aerial imaging can cost around $3,00,000 whereas a drone could cost just $1,000. And of course, it’s done much quicker than by actual manpower.

In India, rescue operations are often halted or delayed owing to the rough terrain and harsh weather conditions. During the Uttarakhand floods in 2013, owing to heavy rains and bad visibility the search operations had to be halted. In such a scenario, where more than 50,000 victims were stranded even a day’s delay could mean losing thousands of lives. During incidents like these, drones could atleast pinpoint the victims and drop necessities like food or medicines till help arrives.

2. Ending Hunger

In India, although the agricultural sector involves more than half the population, it contributes to only one-fifth of the GDP. Crop loss, lack of data and research and damage by natural disasters are the main reasons for low output. Considering at least 20 million people globally at risk of famine – drones can prove a boon in this sector.

As agricultural drones work on artificial intelligence and are equipped with sensors they are capable of performing almost everything. This includes the most basic ones – like spraying just the right amount of fertilisers on crops, planting seeds in inaccessible areas like the hill, monitoring huge acres of lands to prevent theft. These drones help with the most advance functions as well like crop and weed mapping, field survey and analysis, pest scouting and irrigation management.

In India, annual crop losses caused by pest, weeds and diseases is a whopping Rs. 50,000 crore, which is significant considering at least 20 crore people go to bed hungry. Using drones can help cut cost and raise output. This has proved successful in Punjab, where the farmers were facing severe challenges from uncontrollable weeds and pest growth leading to low crop yield. Ideally, the farmers would detect the pests and weeds manually through visual inspection and crop scouting. This was inefficient and time-consuming, especially for farmers managing huge acres of lands. As a result, to destroy the weeds the farmers would spray chemicals all over the farm, destroying the healthy crops in the process. But, with the drone technology, this would be a seamless and an automated process. The drone would be equipped with a Weed Pressure algorithm which would generate

weed pressure map, giving the farmers weed pressure index and percentage of weeds dispersed across entire area. This data helps the farmers to target only those areas where weeds are more prevalent – thus employing a more targeted and strategic management technique. Further, crop imaging also helps in early detection of pests and weed attacks.

Drones fitted with high-resolution cameras can be flown over thousands of hectares of farms and gather real-time data which can help determine which crop is most suitable as per the soil quality and geological conditions or warn in advance in case of an unforeseen incident. Thermal cameras are able to detect cooler, well-watered field regions as well as dry hot patches. Farmers can use this data to adjust field irrigation and avoid wasting excess water.  Most importantly, it can relieve the farmer of surveying the farm all by himself or hiring people to do so. Farmers with huge acres of lands – say 500 acres – can use a drone to monitor what’s going on in the farm and preventing crop loss. Wild animals like elephants and boars pose a risk for the farmers as enter the farms and destroy the fields and plantations. At least 30-35% of the output is impacted by the crop damages inflicted by wild animals.

3. Eliminating Fraud

As per an analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the application of drones can help save $

6.8 billion per year. And that’s the approximate amount ($6.25 billion) India’s insurance sector loses to insurance frauds – like falsification of documents or fabricated medical bills. Customers often use a convenient event – like a flood or storm – to claim damages that existed before the event occurred. A person might use an incident like storm to claim money for pre-existing damage like a broken roof. To deal with such frauds, insurers are investing money and human resource to enhance their abilities to detect fraud. One such investment in deployment of drones, through which the insurance company can literally spy on how diligent your claims and prevent losses occurred through frauds. In the above example, usage of drones would enable the insurance company to consistently capture images before and after the floods and thus will have sufficient evidence to prove the claimed wrong.

 Crop insurance is one such area where frauds are pretty rampant. Farmers often profit from insurance claims during disasters for crops which are either secret sold out or in worst case never grown. In 2013, farmers in North Carolina claimed losses of crops like tobacco, soybean, wheat and corn which they claimed was destroyed by bad weather and pest. Agricultural investigators have termed such farmers as ‘insurance farmers’ who have no intention to harvest crops. They often claim they have planted crops, but in reality they don’t even plough the soil. In India as well, farmers provide incorrect yield date, wrong measurements of the farm area or even sow one crop but claim money for another crop. For instance, when Marathwada was the worst affected drought area in 2015, at least 15,000 farmers claimed for insurance for crops they hadn’t even sowed. Drones can improve the claim management by accurately checking the fraud before claims are made by consistently conducting drone surveys to get a clear picture of farms, providing detailed accurate data by creation of 3-D models of the property, thus helping to better evaluate the damage.

4. Scanning everything on and under the Earth’s Surface

Mining is known worldwide for it’s highly risky and hazardous working environment. As a result, non-human alternatives are always welcome in this industry. For years, mining companies have been using driverless trucks, robots and artificial intelligence. Drones are the latest entrant in this industry.

Drones have become an invaluable set of eyes in Bingham Canyon Mine (one of the world’s largest open-pit mines) in the US – preparing and monitoring mining plans, area and equipment inspection, surveillance of slopes and most importantly minimizing risks to the workers. A mining plan which took 2-3 months when done manually, now is done by a drone in just 8-10 days. As drones can fly in areas otherwise inaccessible by humans, mining companies can dig out more rocks – even if it’s a hundred feet underground. When used in Jundee – a gold mine in Australia – the companies could extract 95% of the ore, which is expected to produce more than $300 million gold in just a year. Using drones eliminates the traditional methods which are usually risky for human lives. In Australia, the legal height limit to fly a drone is 122m (400-feet), so to inspect a smoke stack the mining would simply fly the drone straight up from the ground 122m high. Whereas before it used to involve personnel on ropes coming in from the top which is slow and is putting lives at risk.

In India, the usage of drones in mining can help solve a major issue – cracking down on illegal mining, which is rampant in India. 96,000 cases related to illegal mining in 2017 alone. India has 569 coal mines, 67 oil and gas mines, 1,770 non-coal mines and lakhs of small mines. It is impossible to inspect every mine manually. Thus, states like Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Maharashtra have started deploying drone to check illegal quarrying and sand mines. These drones act as security surveillance in the mining area, check actitvities at night or track illegal truck movements. While the drones in Uttarakhand monitor areas like Gaula riverbed which are not accessible by staffers, in Gujarat it prevents smuggling of sand by 24×7 surveillance.

5. Revolutionizing Real Estate

As they say, in real estate you’re not selling homes, you’re selling a lifestyle. This is especially true in a price-conscious market like India, where buyers have multiple needs and demands like –What the surrounding environment looks like? Which school is the nearest? What’s the traffic like in the nearby area?

For real estate developers and marketers, drone photography (images and videos) can show the potential buyer a variety of details including 3-D mapping which provides details such as built up area, enables realistic documentation of properties, precise views from high storeys. In the Indian real estate market, where there’s cut throat competition, world-class photography and videography can largely differentiate your property listing with those of your competitors. According to MLS statistics, the properties photographed by drones are sold 68% faster. A drone can fly throughout the home from the front end and travel in each and every room to create a natural tour than station based photography can create. You can combine this tour with a professional voice over sound-track to make beautiful visual stories, rich with information and history.

Before the drone technology, agents got the aerial shots from airplanes and helicopters, which was pretty expensive. Drones, on the other hand, is cost effective, easy to operate and does not require a lot of experience. Drone photography is far cheaper than the next cheapest alternative–helicopters–and much easier to implement in terms of logistics and planning. However, it does hold very real appeal to anyone attempting to large tracts of land, a high end property and there are amenities which will not be accessible by a foot angle. Further, drones will pave way to creating a seamless communication in each level of construction – largely used for monitoring and inspections of weak areas, quality control and spotting dangerous conditions. This early detection can reduce the number of accidents and danger. Drones also allow construction project manager to observe sites in great detail from a remote location without putting workers at risk.

Accurate and timely drone based assessment of property conditions will help in knowing the actual progress of the project. The analysis can help reduce investment risk, will help buyers and insurers take key decisions as they can get a better perspective of the project.