Fly­ing CARS

From Avi­a­tion Min­is­ter Jayant Sinha en­dors­ing Fly­ing Rick­shaws to IIT-Kanpur- VTOL Avi­a­tion In­dia’s ` 15 crore col­lab to make fly­ing cars, SP’s Avi­a­tion sep­a­rates facts from fic­tion.

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Last year, the world’s first elec­tric ver­ti­cal take-off

and land­ing jet con­cept, the Lil­ium Jet, made the world re­alise their Jet­sons dreams. The all-elec­tric air taxi boasts a 300 km range and speeds up to 300 km/h. The con­cept prob­a­bly in­spired Min­is­ter of Civil Avi­a­tion, Jayant Sinha, to en­vi­sion a dig­i­tal sky with ‘air rick­shaws.’ And, he’s not alone. Re­searchers at IIT-Kanpur have signed a ` 15 crore MoU with VTOL Avi­a­tion to de­velop functional pro­to­types of ver­ti­cal take­off and land­ing (VTOL) craft.

It is hoped that the de­vel­oped pro­to­type pow­ered by elec­tric­ity will be com­pleted by 2023. Peer-to-peer rideshar­ing, taxi cab, food de­liv­ery, and trans­porta­tion net­work com­pany Uber, has the same five-year ten­ta­tive dead­line for their take on aerial taxis un­der UberAIR. Closer home in Luc­know, TechEa­gle Inno- va­tions, founded by IIT Kanpur grad­u­ate Vikram Singh Meena, pi­lot-tested de­liv­ery of two litres of hot tea with the help of bat­tery-pow­ered and GPS-fit­ted drones on last month. Mean­while, China’s food de­liv­ery app, has got a for­mal clear­ance from the gov­ern­ment to de­liver food via drones. With aerial au­to­mo­biles be­com­ing the lat­est cool, is the world re­ally mov­ing on to an era of fly­ing cars? More so, will the still-in-progress draft­ing of Drone Pol­icy clip In­dia’s avi­a­tion dreams? We ask avi­a­tion vet­er­ans for their take.


“I’m a big prop­a­ga­tor of drones and I think the fu­ture lies there. I ab­so­lutely agree with Jayant Sinha’s drone rick­shaw, 200 per cent. If you were to look back in his­tory at Times Square in New York, say 50 years ago, all you would see would be horse car­riages. Fast-for­ward 20 years ahead and you would prob­a­bly see a few cars owned by the rich and horse car­riages for the rest in the same space. Fast-for­ward to now, there are only cars in same space. Sim­i­larly, I think the world has evolved to the rich hav­ing pri­vate jets now while every­one else has cars. In the next 20 years, the rich will have moved to drones or fly­ing cars. Slowly, you will see the whole world move to­wards fly­ing de­vices be­cause there won’t be space for us to drive or park cars,” says Kanika Tekri­wal, founder, JetSetGo.

While the road space is get­ting tighter, drone-pow­ered trans­port is a good fit, bonus points should the en­vi­ron­ment-friendly aerial E-rick­shaws become a re­al­ity. How­ever, their use­ful­ness in other ar­eas is also com­ing to light. On­line shop­ping por­tals are cash­ing in on drones to make de­liv­er­ies cut­ting on cost and time. Amer­i­can elec­tronic com­merce and cloud com­put­ing com­pany, Ama­zon, made its first drone de­liv­ery in the UK in De­cem­ber 2016. The com­pany shared plans of new de­liv­ery ser­vice called Prime Air in 2013, de­signed to safely get pack­ages to cus­tomers in 30 min­utes or less us­ing un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles or drones. How­ever, you may have to wait a while for Prime Air to take flight in In­dia. For, starters, the sys­tem is still un­der progress and the lack of or strin­gent reg­u­la­tions may just dampen the process fur­ther. “Ama­zon Prime Air is con­tin­u­ing to de­velop a de­liv­ery sys­tem de­signed to safely get pack­ages into cus­tomers’ hands in 30 min­utes or less us­ing un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles, or drones. Putting Prime Air into ser­vice will take some time, but we will de­ploy when the tech­nol­ogy, in­fra­struc­ture and reg­u­la­tory sup­port are in place to safely re­al­ize our vi­sion. At this time we do not have any im­me­di­ate plans to launch drone de­liv­ery ser­vices in In­dia,” the Ama­zon In­dia Spokesper­son told us.


After im­pos­ing a blan­ket ban on the civil use of drones and un­manned air­craft sys­tem by civil­ians in 2014, the reg­u­la­tory body for In­dian civil avi­a­tion, Direc­tor Gen­eral of Civil Avi­a­tion (DGCA), re­leased a draft of drone pol­icy ear­lier this year out­lin­ing the drone fly­ing reg­u­la­tions in In­dia. In­ter­est­ingly, the reg­u­la­tions re­leased by the DGCA is a lit­tle tougher than those fol­lowed in coun­tries like USA and Canada. Nano-drones (<250 gm) for re­cre­ational pur­poses do not re­quire any per­mis­sion, how­ever, if your UAV is clas­si­fied as a Mini drone and above (>2Kg), be pre­pared to drown in pa­per­work be­fore you can fly. Per­mis­sions from po­lice, flight path au­tho­riza­tion, and more will be re­quired to op­er­ate such drones. Apart from th­ese, drones are not al­lowed in cer­tain sen­si­tive ar­eas such as places fall­ing un­der 50 km from in­ter­na­tional bor­ders, be­yond 500m from the sea coast, within 5 km from Vi­jay Chowk, In­dia Gate, na­tional parks, wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies etc.

The in­dige­nous drone com­pa­nies have al­ready raised con­cerns and asked for rec­ti­fi­ca­tion in the pro­posed pol­icy

for drones over the pro­posed weight re­stric­tion of 2kgs and height re­stric­tion of 200 feet for drones used for var­i­ous ap­pli­ca­tions. It is in­ter­est­ing to note that US’s Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rules for fly­ing a drone in­struct users to fly at or be­low 400 feet. In such a sce­nario should the drafted pol­icy be passed, Jayant Sinha’s drone-pow­ered rick­shaw will end up be­com­ing more of an ac­ci­dent hazard in the skies rather than a con­ve­nient trans­port sys­tem.

The co-founder of In­dian drone com­pany PigeonIs, De­wang Gala, shared some valid con­cerns with us, lack of digi­ti­sa­tion be­ing one of them. He says, “The drone reg­u­la­tions are of course nec­es­sary. How­ever, my con­cern with the draft is are just with the phys­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion forms that will need to be filled. It would become a very te­dious process to do that and then wait about 2-3 days to get all the ap­provals. There should be an on­line or app-based some­thing that can fas­ten the process. Lack of digi­ti­sa­tion will in­crease the ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­den too.” He also added that re­quire­ment for the drone pi­lot to get the same train­ing as the manned aero­plane pi­lot is un­nec­es­sary con­sid­er­ing they are com­pletely dif­fer­ent op­er­a­tions. “Drone pi­lots do re­quire train­ing be­cause there’s a crash threat such as avoid­ing flight over power lines, de­fence ar­eas etc but it’s not sim­i­lar to the so­phis­ti­cated train­ing of a manned air­craft. 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,” he says.


With cons stack­ing up higher along with the ob­vi­ous ad­van­tages of fly­ing cars and the works, it is im­per­a­tive to take stock of the good as well as the bad. Ra­jan Mehra, CEO, Club One Air,

agrees. He says, “It is a tricky sit­u­a­tion. Drone is a sub­ject that still hasn’t been un­der­stood com­pletely and I don’t think any of the gov­ern­ments have come to a con­clu­sion on how to han­dle this. If it is han­dled care­lessly, it can become a ma­jor se­cu­rity hazard any­where in the world. I mean, th­ese are pi­lot­less in­stru­ments that can be mon­i­tored by a re­mote and have po­ten­tial to cause dam­age and de­struc­tion. The In­dian gov­ern­ment, just like any other coun­try, is tread­ing softly on this, and right­fully so, but then yet again drones are the fu­ture of avi­a­tion.”

The DGCA has been mulling over the drone reg­u­la­tions for long and it seems rightly so. Strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween not over-reg­u­lat­ing and yet stepping into the fu­ture is not an easy task. Apart from ob­vi­ous se­cu­rity con­cerns, ac­ci­dents in the skies are a ma­jor is­sue too since even bump­ing the bumper of a fly­ing car can have dire con­se­quences. Trans­port rev­o­lu­tion­ary Elon Musk isn’t con­vinced about the util­ity of this ei­ther. “There will be zil­lions of th­ese things fly­ing all over the place and, in­evitably, some­body’s not go­ing to ser­vice their car prop­erly and they’re go­ing to drop a hub­cap and it’s go­ing to guil­lo­tine some­body,” he said at an event for his com­pany, The Bor­ing Com­pany, adding, “And it’s go­ing to be noisy like a hur­ri­cane.”

While the ben­e­fits can­not be de­nied, civil use of un­manned avi­a­tion has great po­ten­tial but it still needs to be reg­u­lat­edthe how, where, when in the present safety en­vi­ron­ment. De­wang Gala agrees, say­ing, “Fly­ing Rick­shaws would be 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. Drones can­not de­tect wires.”

“The whole world will move to­wards fly­ing de­vices be­cause there won’t be space for us to drive or park cars. I ab­so­lutely agree with Jayant Sinha’s drone rick­shaw, 200%.” says Kanika Tekri­wal.



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