IN­TER­VIEW WITH DEWANG GALA, CO-FOUNDER OF PIGEONIS

Co-founder of PigeonIS, Dewang Gala, talks us­ing drone tech­nol­ogy to re­place man­ual labour and civil avi­a­tion min­istry’s drone pol­icy

SP's Airbuz - - Table of Contents - BY AR­PITA KALA

TIME IS MONEY AND no one un­der­stands it bet­ter than Dewang Gala, co-founder of PigeonIS, as he brings sci-fi fan­tasies to life by send­ing drones out to work. Lit­er­ally. “Our tagline says- We want to send drones to work, no more boots on the ground. For ex­am­ple in the min­ing in­dus­try, there are many in­stances when a per­son needs to go from place to place to col­lect data etc and drones can help fas­ten the process. To sur­vey an area of 1 km square, a per­son can cover the dis­tance in 2-3 days on foot while a drone takes only 20-25 min­utes,” he says.

Started in 2014 with a dream of pro­vid­ing so­lu­tions us­ing drones as a part of their col­lege pro­ject, Gala has come a long way from when he par­tic­i­pated in UAE Drone’s for Good com-

pe­ti­tion. “Al­though we weren’t short­listed, we got the idea that we wanted to build some­thing that can be used for any­thing and ev­ery­thing…we still have many ideas that drones can be used for. We are still in devel­op­ment phase,” he says. And, he is one of the many not im­pressed by the civil avi­a­tion min­istry’s drone pol­icy draft. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ABOUT DRONE DRAFT SHARED BY THE GOV­ERN­MENT? Drone reg­u­la­tions are nec­es­sary, of course. How­ever, my ma­jor con­cern with the reg­u­la­tions listed in the doc­u­ment is with the amount of phys­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion forms that will need to be filled. It would be a very te­dious process and then, the 2-3 day long wait to get all the ap­provals. Con­sid­er­ing the amount of work we do, it would prove to be very in­con­ve­nient to wait for so long just to get an ap­proval to fly. There should be an on­line or app based some­thing that can fas­ten the process. Lack of digi­ti­sa­tion will in­crease the ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­den too.

My other con­cern is that they men­tion that the drone pi­lot should have the same train­ing as a manned air­plane pi­lot de­spite them be­ing com­pletely dif­fer­ent things. The most ob­vi­ous rea­son be­ing that the pi­lot op­er­ates from out­side with the help of re­mote con­troller in a drone. They do re­quire train­ing be­cause there are crash threats and safety haz­ards such as avoid­ing flight over power lines, de­fence ar­eas etc but it’s not sim­i­lar to the so­phis­ti­cated train­ing of a manned air­craft.

We have trained our drone pi­lots our­selves for the Pi­geon op­er­a­tions since there is no gov­ern­ment body as such to reg­u­late or ed­u­cate them. So, we make our own drones and train our own pi­lots. The draft also men­tions set­ting up 12-13 odd train­ing fa­cil­i­ties in In­dia, which won’t be enough and some of them are quite in­con­ve­nient dis­tance-wise. WHAT ABOUT THE 18 YEAR OLD AGE LIMIT? Ide­ally, it should be 21 years be­cause at 18, a per­son may still not be ma­ture enough to take de­ci­sions in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions. He/She can fly dur­ing train­ing phases but for real-life sit­u­a­tions some­one over 21 years of age should be a bet­ter bet. There may be a few ex­cep­tions, ob­vi­ously, but I feel this is a de­cent age. WHAT KIND OF DRONES DOES YOUR OR­GAN­I­SA­TION USE? We have as­sem­bled drones for sur­vey as well as in­spec­tion. For the for­mer, the drone re­quire­ments in­clude be­ing able to fly for longer time over a larger area with good res­o­lu­tion while lat­ter you need very so­phis­ti­cated drone with dual pur­pose. DID YOU AL­WAYS KNOW THAT YOU’D BE WORK­ING WITH DRONES OR YOU RE­ALISED IT AT THE COM­PE­TI­TION? We al­ways had an idea to work in this field and we aren’t a man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany but a ser­vice provider in ev­ery sec­tor. The fu­tur­is­tic ap­pli­ca­tion of drones that we are look­ing at in­volves set­ting up drone sta­tions from where drones can be sent out au­tonomously for var­i­ous chores on their own by a man com­mand­ing them from an of­fice. HAS IN­DIA RE­MAINED BAL­ANCED OR FALLEN PREY TO OVER-REG­U­LA­TION? It ac­tu­ally de­pends on in­di­vid­ual rules. In some places it’s men­tioned that the flight pass needs to be sub­mit­ted ev­ery now and then but it will be very in­con­ve­nienc­ing for oper­a­tors like us who have to fly daily. Like I’ve said be­fore, not digi­tis­ing the process is a huge draw­back. DO YOU THINK BAN ON FOR­EIGN DRONES NOT LET­TING COM­PE­TI­TION GROW IN THE COUN­TRY? Ab­sence of com­pe­ti­tion is a good and a bad thing too. If there are for­eign play­ers, of course, we’ll have more things to do… more chal­lenges and more in­no­va­tions. In­dia is not fall­ing be­hind glob­ally when it comes to drones in spite of the gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions. I don’t mind the com­pe­ti­tion at all but that’s not my con­cern right now. Our op­er­a­tions are com­pletely dif­fer­ent since we serve a niche au­di­ence and en­joy mo­nop­oly here. HAS THE SAM­SUNG’S FA­CIAL RECOG­NI­TION DRONE EN­COUR­AG­ING YOU TO PUSH THE EN­VE­LOPE FOR DRONE IN­NO­VA­TION? For their patented drone, Sam­sung has com­bined ma­chine learn­ing with com­puter vi­sion. It’s a sim­i­lar al­go­rithm to selfie cam­eras. But, there are some lim­i­ta­tions too. For ex­am­ple in real-life sit­u­a­tions there will al­ways be back­ground noise or clut­ter in an image, which may just make the fea­ture dif­fi­cult. In the­ory it is fine but in prac­tice it may re­quire more time to per­fect the con­cept.

We also have a plan to set up a plat­form where drones will au­tonomously go col­lect the data, re­turn to the base in­de­pen­dently and present the re­port or find­ings. The plan is to have au­ton­o­mous drone in­spec­tions. But again, the sys­tem we need for this is very high-end. Right now, in case of re­ports of any anom­aly, a hu­man has to go and fix the ‘ prob­lem’. In the fu­ture, a com­puter can pick up any is­sues no­ticed dur­ing in­spec­tions and be able to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a de­fect or not from the images. But, for that the com­puter will have to be taught all the per­mu­ta­tions and com­bi­na­tions aka ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. It will take time, of course.

One of the prob­lems we are fac­ing right now is that the com­puter can­not dis­tin­guish be­tween the back­ground noises dur­ing drone in­spec­tion of a loud site and deems them an anom­aly. ARE YOU IN A HURRY TO JOIN THE DRONE PATENT WAR? Not re­ally, be­cause we want to be sure about our work first. We are in a plan­ning and re­search­ing phase right now. How­ever, time is just right to be a drone ser­vices com­pany in the coun­try con­sid­er­ing the high de­mand we get for our work. Right now the sup­ply for peo­ple’s drone ser­vice re­quire­ments is way lesser as com­pared to the de­mand, so there is need for new com­pa­nies. DO YOU THINK JAYANT SINHA’S DRONE RICK­SHAW IS A POS­SI­BIL­ITY? That’s pos­si­ble in the next five years only if it’s a smart city de­vel­oped with re­spon­si­ble and ac­cu­rate plan­ning. Even right now, when walk­ing down the road and I see so many bare wires… I won­der that it may just be a prob­lem for drone rick­shaws. Drones can­not de­tect wires. There needs to be thor­ough plan­ning to not have wires af­ter a cer­tain al­ti­tude or there should be spe­cific parts of the city where drone rick­shaws can fly. It should be planned very ac­cu­rately. Drone au­tos are sim­i­lar to he­li­copters in a way, so I think it could be pos­si­ble, in that sce­nario.

‘WE WANT TO SEND DRONES TO WORK, NO MORE BOOTS ON THE GROUND’

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