‘Need to formulate policies for creating a strong drone ecosystem in India’
The Chinese manufactures of drones have been dumping their illegal dual-technology products in millions across the world, taking advantage of lack of regulatory framework for global regulators to keep a check on illegal drones in their respective nations.
The incidences of disruptions and security threats, thus, have been on the rise and India too faces tangible threats to its civilian air traffic, airports and strategic defence assets from an estimated 5 lakh such drones operating mostly illegally.
Indian regulators have recently announced new drone guidelines, which is a step forward to regulate this industry. In an interview, Mr. Sai Pattabiram, CEO and Founder of Shree Sai Aerotech Innovations, speaks about the scope for India to establish its leadership in drone and anti-drone technologies for tackling the global drone situation.
Excerpts from the interview…
How alarming is the illegal drone situation?
There are currently millions of drones, mostly illegal China-made dual technology products across the world. The current ratio of drones to civilian airlines is around 600:1 and the drone population is expected to at least double in just three years. Chinese companies have dumped their drones by taking advantage of the fact that regulators across the world did not have any set framework in place to counter or control illegal drones.
In India too there are an estimated 5 lakh such drones operating mostly illegally, which pose tangible threats to civilian air traffic, airports and strategic defence assets. There is also the risk of discreet data acquisition and spying by such drones, because of the fact that the defence forces are using commercial off-the-shelf drones at strategic defence installations.
What can be done to tackle this global problem?
India has an opportunity to leverage its high credibility in the field of Information Technology (IT) to develop an ‘Indian Drone Ecosystem ‘as a credible alternative to the Chinese at a global level. Policies need to be formulated, which would enable our country to establish its leadership in drone and anti-drone manufacturing worldwide, not only in the Indian proposed global drone alliance and ecosystem but also to add significantly by way of industry 4.0 critical technologies. However for this to happen, the policymakers, regulators and the industry should all come together.
By policy and regulatory support, what exactly are you proposing?
Firstly, policymakers should restrict all commercial use of drones at the individual level, except for low-end applications like drone photography and videography of events. Secondly, sector specific policies should be created to address the operational requirements of the stakeholders. Lastly and most importantly, policy intervention is required for establishing the “Made in India” drone industry.
The first step for creating a regulatory framework is to make operations of NPNT-compliant and certified devices mandatory. This will facilitate tracking and monitoring of drone operations through a portal similar to the already functional tracking and monitoring portal of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MORTH) Vahan. This will also enable segregation of existing illegal drone users and for setting up of ‘air-fence’ systems around airports and strategic notified locations.
The industry should support the cause by manufacturing only the regulatory complaint NPNT-equipped drones and tracking systems.
You recently launched Unmanned Traffic Monitoring (UTM) system. Can you tell us more about this product?
The Unmanned Traffic Monitoring System (UTM) launched by Zuppa at the Aero India 2019 is India’s first and only ‘Made in India’ UTM. It is the first attempt to develop Indian manufacturing and technology capabilities to thwart the growing menace of Chinese drones.
UTMs are electronic systems that are used to monitor and track flights of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones and form a critical link in the process of on-boarding the currently illegal and unregulated drones into the regulatory framework formulated by regulators.
How can this indigenous UTM help in curbing illegal drones by the regulators?
An UTM solution completely developed in India and the hardware which is certified and controlled by the regulators will enable them to create a uniform standardized system that can be applied to every conceivable civilian drone. Deploying such an UTM system will enable the regulators to on-board and track drones on their monitoring systems, thereby enabling them to segregate the legal and rogue drones.
What are the other drone technologies developed by Zuppa?
We manufacture autopilots for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) based on our proprietary technology of “disseminated parallel control computing in real time.” We have expanded our technology and our technical know-how and competencies created during the development of the UAV Autopilot across a range of hardware applications like UAV Tracking Systems for Regulatory Compliance, Vehicle tracking and telematics, Precision Agriculture, Machine automation and IoT and a range of Industry 4.0 applications.
We are one among a handful of manufacturers of the AIS 140 Certified Devices under the Ministry Of Road transport and Highways Public Vehicle Tracking & Locating regulation. We have also commenced design and development of India’s first ‘Wireless Air Fence’ with the intention of integrating these devices to protect airports and other strategic locations from rogue drone intrusions.