Aarav Unmanned Systems is one of the four founding members of the DFI, and instrumental in developing the open-monitoring platform meant for independent operators across the nation who would do sorties in affected regions (survey for any violations) and relay the information back to local police control rooms.
“We feel that these applications and platforms are easy to develop; there’s no point selling them. We also feel that the number of drone operators and pilots in the country is sufficient to do this activity on a pro-bono basis. It is not possible to create hundreds of drones all of a sudden and deploy them overnight. But if we use existing resources, we can be impactful within a two-day period, and that is what we are doing right now,” he said.
The company not only manufactures drones but also offers clients end-to-end managed solutions (including software dashboards with data presentations and mapping tools) for the said use-cases. It is a provider to some of the big industrial corporate houses like L&T, Vedanta, Adani Group, Hindalco and JSW Group.
Aarav had its beginnings at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, where the two co-founders studied. The operations were later moved to Bengaluru. In the years since incorporation, its drones had mapped over 300,000 acres of area, Singh said.
As the virus spread in India, General Aeronautics began offering support to the authorities in what it did best: remote disinfection. This Bengaluru-based start-up had made a name for itself in agriculture disinfection, with drones that could spray 3-acre farms in less than 10 minutes.
It quickly remodelled some of the drones to spray not pesticides in farms but sodium hyper-chloride on streets, market areas and office buildings. “A majority of the areas we are spraying are places where high footfall is expected during the day. So, we spray either very early in the day or late at night,” said Abhishek Burman, co-founder and CEO, General Aeronautics.
The start-up, which is based out of the Indian Institute of Science (IISC) in Bengaluru, has currently deployed drones in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack in Odisha and Bengaluru in Karnataka. These drones spray disinfectant on markets and government bungalows, in the wee hours twice every day. The operations were started in Bengaluru on March 24 and in Bhubaneswar on April 13. To date, over 200 sorties have been completed.
Overall, General Aeronautics has eight drone systems helping in Covid-19 operations out of a total of the 20 systems it has deployed to date.
“We have paid enough attention to ensuring the coverage area of drones is good, and it gets the job done effectively. We are not saying drones are the only solution, but it is the best solution where human intervention is not possible or does not make sense,” said Burman, adding that the company had published a white paper on the effectiveness of various disinfectants and the parameters a spray-drone must comply with to be useful.
Beyond this, its drones are being used to make public announcements in Bengaluru. The public announcement drones serve a dual purpose, said Burman. They have both a microphone and a camera, so the operator can make live announcements based on what they see.
General Aeronautics is also building a platform for authorities which would receive live feeds from drones deployed to survey hotspots. It boasts artificial intelligence-based tools which automatically detect anomalies (like crowding) and alert police control rooms accordingly. Talks are on with Bhubaneswar and Bengaluru police for deployment, Burman said.
General Aeronautics was incubated at Society of Innovation and Development (SID), IISC, where it is currently situated. Burman said its drone were used extensively in Kerala, where it has developed an AI-based solution for coconut farming. This is now being extended to other crops.
As the Covid-19 virus spread, a new challenge emerged: How to ensure social distancing in slums? Small make-shift houses and crammed streets would inevitably force people out on to the streets, and the police patrols would not be able to reach such areas. The solution: Drones. Enter Idea Forge, the market leader in surveillance drones. The company has its systems deployed with BFS, Air Force, NSG and police forces of several states. Building on existing partnerships, the start-up moved to offer UAVs for surveillance, and quickly scaled operations to 10 cities.
Forces in Mumbai are using Idea Forge’s Netra Pro UAV, which packs two payloads — a camera and a megaphone, in Dharavi. The drone relays real-time feed and allows operators to announce messages to the public. About 20-30 flights are taking place every day in Dharavi, Thane, Bhiwandi and Worli — some of the densely populated neighbourhoods.
Another set of drones, called Q Series, are used in Delhi, Kolkata and Maharashtra’s Sangli district.
Founder Ankit Mehta said that the company was piloting special drones with thermal sensors in Delhi. These are specifically used to survey at night. The thermal sensor, which detects heat, is able to capture movement of humans, and even vehicles, in pitch dark, and report violations to the control room.
“Drones are useful to authorities in providing on-ground situational awareness in real time, tracking lockdown
violators and conducting surveillance without risking their lives. Also, a drone carrying an HD camera and a megaphone acts as a strong deterrent against lockdown
violations, as people are aware that they are under surveillance,” said Mehta. Given its growing use in the time of pandemic and more people learning about, “we are witnessing an exponential rise in drone-powered surveillance inquiries”.
Idea Forge is a full-stack company that manufactures drones and drone-management software from ground up, as well as peripherals like controllers.
Being military-grade drones, these have high payload-carrying capacity and a long range for battery and flight. Its Netra drone was among the first indigenously developed drone systems to be inducted in the army. The company was set up by engineers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, in 2007. So, that makes it one of the oldest such company in the country.
The only bootstrapped firm in this group, Quidich Innovation Labs, is also the most unique. It’s a leading player in drones and remote camera management systems for the broadcast sector. Quidich has provided drone systems for several cricketing events, including the last four seasons of the Indian Premier League
(IPL), and film productions such as Gully Boy and Sanju.
In the current scenario, Quidich has also diverted resources towards helping authorities manage the coronavirus
situation. Through the DFI platform, its drones are doing regular surveying and monitoring of areas in Mumbai.
“The (DFI) dashboard rests at the Mumbai police control room, where they are able to see live feeds. This helps them send forces only at places where violations have occurred,” said Quidich co-founder Gaurav Mehta. Sending plain-vanilla footage was not enough, drone systems needed to be intelligent, he said. Those in use today are capable of automatically zooming in and out on targets (where there is a commotion) or even fly close to it.
Why Quidich operates in the broadcast sector is because co-founder and CEO Rahat Kulshreshtha is also a film-maker on the side. He studied film-making at University of Westminster, London, and later worked on independent products for two years in London. On returning to India, he went for Young India Fellowship at the Ashoka University, where he met Mehta.