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This gold-medallist swimmer's enterprise flies drones to kill Coronavirus

Topics Coronavirus

Agnishwar Jayaprakash, founder, Garuda Aerospace
Way back in 2014, Doordarshan was telecasting a science reality show in which young school-going innovators were demonstrating their ideas. The winners were announced in quite a unique manner -- a drone showered chocolates on them. These winners are now using that very technology to shower disinfectants on schools, colleges and government offices in order to get rid of the killer Coronavirus and make these premises what they ‘Corona Killer 100 (CK100)’.

Chennai-based Garuda Aerospace, promoted by Asian gold medalist swimmer and young entrepreneur Agnishwar Jayaprakash, was launched in 2015. But right from the beginning, the firm had one objective - to explore larger use cases of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) instead of simply deploying them to video-graph weddings and other events.

Over the years, the company has been involved in manufacturing drones and offering their services in agriculture, pesticide spraying, mapping, crowd monitoring, wildlife monitoring, aerial inspection, delivery, wildlife poaching, among a host of other services. It has acquired expertise in the agriculture sector, in pesticide spraying, powerline stringing for high tension electricity lines for Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, mapping for infrastructure firms, and aerial inspection of forest area for Tamil Nadu Forest Department, where a loudspeaker loaded with the drone imitates animal sounds to distract the wildlife from approaching human habitats.

Apart from government departments, it also works with several private sector companies such as L&T, Vedanta, Gamesa, International Flavors & Fragrances, Scania, Sterlite Power and mobility technology firm SAEINDIA. 

The corona killer

With the killer virus spreading rapidly, the Tamil Nadu government began using Garuda's drones to spray disinfectants in Chennai Corporation areas and government hospitals on March 23. Following this, the company bagged orders from Varanasi Smart City, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to deploy drones for sanitising several parts of the city. 

The firm has seen the demand for its drones grow three-fold after Covid-19 started spreading. Prior to this Garuda was dependent on government and infrastructure companies for business. The decline in Chinese imports and the quality offered by Indian players has increased the demand for indigenous drones. Garuda Aerospace was earlier supplying to Tamil Nadu Electricity Board for critical power infrastructure projects and State Forest department to track and distract wild animals from entering into human habitats. But today, it has requests from 12 States including Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry, among others, for sanitisation, monitoring of crowd and usage of loudspeaker to disseminate official communication. Each drone can cover 20 kilometers (on a single charge) and carry up to 20 litres. The company is also using drones fitted with loudspeakers to help police make public announcements and monitor implementation of Section 144.

The drones, which it calls as Corona Killer 100 (CK100), can operate 12 hours at a stretch flying up to a height of 150 meters. CK 100 drones are equipped with thermal sensing to help the officials manage crowds and identify people with elevated body temperatures, who could possibly have contracted the virus.

"We have received interest for around 2,000 drones in India. But, our capacity is 100 drones a month, which means it would take at least 20 months to deliver the entire lot,” Jayaprakash said. This apart, the company is also learnt to have received interests for around 1,500 drones from Spain, Brazil and the US. “So for the overseas interests, we have said that we will serve based on our ability to expand operations amid the lockdown." 

The company is in talks with investors to raise $15 million for the next stage of development to offer drone delivery services and others.

The drones it makes are 80 per cent automated and, like large aircraft, can go autopilot most of the time. Chinese drones with fewer capabilities and a price advantage had made a mark in the Indian market. But now with Covid-19 posing such a huge problem, Garuda is likely to have an edge.

Uberisation of drones

Garuda Aerospace is also launching a drone aggregator service across 26 cities. It aims to offer services such as spraying disinfectants to fight Covid-19. The company aims to launch an app called 'Garuda' which will have a network of around 4,000 drones and 6,500 pilots. In the Covid-19 fight, it can offer various drone-related services including disinfecting private properties. "We want to be the Uber of drones," said Jayaprakash.

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