Road to Global Drone Leader

In­dia can show the world how drone tech­nol­ogy can be used to bring about so­cially im­pact­ful ser­vices in agri­cul­ture and pub­lic health

The Day After - - CONTENT - By dAnFEs Feed­back on:re­porter@dayaf­

Last month, the In­dian Di­rec­torate Gen­eral for Civil Avi­a­tion is­sued its first pol­icy al­low­ing for com­mer­cial drone op­er­a­tions. This comes af­ter four years in which pri­vate op­er­a­tions of drones were es­sen­tially banned. Al­though the new reg­u­la­tions are fairly con­ser­va­tive in a global con­text, In­dia now has the op­por­tu­nity to be­come a global leader in drones.

Al­though they will be used by a small num­ber of trained op­er­a­tors, the ben­e­fits of drone tech­nol­ogy have the po­ten­tial to touch the lives of all 1.3 bil­lion In­dian cit­i­zens. Agri­cul­ture re­mains a lynch­pin of the In­dian econ­omy, ac­count­ing for 18 per­cent of the coun­try’s GDP and em­ploy­ing 50 per­cent of the coun­try’s work­force.

Start­ing in De­cem­ber, the In­dian state Govern­ment of Ma­ha­rash­tra, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s Cen­tre for the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, is plan­ning to un­der­take the largest drone map­ping op­er­a­tion in his­tory, ini­tially cov­er­ing two dis­tricts of the state. Th­ese maps will be com­pleted dur­ing the win­ter Rabi crop­ping sea­son, with the data housed in a util­ity that will be used by govern­ment de­part­ments and pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­nies to help pro­vide pre­cise in­for­ma­tion about crop yields, soil health, pest out­breaks and po­ten­tial ir­ri­ga­tion up­grades to farm­ers and oth­ers work­ing in the agri­cul­tural econ­omy. Th­ese ef­forts will be sup­ported by a multi-stake­holder com­mit­tee that will help en­sure that the ben­e­fits of th­ese data col­lec­tion ef­forts are broadly dis­trib­uted while safe­guard­ing pub­lic safety and farmer pri­vacy.

Drones can also play an im­por­tant role in pub­lic health in In­dia. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent govern­ment sur­vey, over 7 in 10 In­dian chil­dren are not re­ceiv­ing timely vac­ci­na­tions. The Govern­ment of In­dia launched the am­bi­tious Mis­sion In­drad­hanush project to ad­dress this chal­lenge, but in a num­ber of dis­tricts sim­ply get­ting the vac­cine sup­ply to re­mote health work­ers while main­tain­ing a tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled sup­ply chain is a tremen­dous chal­lenge. De­liv­ery drones could help bring vac­cines to re­mote clin­ics to sup­port pub­lic health cam­paigns on a just-in-time ba­sis while keep­ing them suit­ably cool. Sim­i­lar ef­forts to de­liver blood prod­ucts to re­mote parts of Rwanda have al­ready helped thou­sands of pa­tients.

In­dia has the op­por­tu­nity to de­liver im­proved ser­vices to its peo­ple through the use of drones, de­velop a ro­bust drone ser­vices sec­tor, and be­come a world leader in demon­strat­ing how this tech­nol­ogy can be de­ployed in so­cially im­pact­ful ways.

How­ever, a num­ber of ques­tions re­main re­gard­ing whether In­dia’s lead­ers will take ad­van­tage of this op­por­tu­nity. The newly is­sued reg­u­la­tions are a good start, but to fully cap­ture the ben­e­fits of drones the reg­u­la­tions will need to evolve to al­low for flights be­yond vis­ual line of site, mul­ti­ple air­craft per op­er­a­tor, and even­tu­ally au­ton­o­mous op­er­a­tions. Th­ese are is­sues that gov­ern­ments around the world are strug­gling with, but a few first movers such as Switzer­land and Rwanda have de­vel­oped new ap­proaches to drone reg­u­la­tion that al­low them to re­al­ize the ben­e­fits of th­ese types of op­er­a­tions.

If the Govern­ment of In­dia is will­ing to take some cal­cu­lated risks – such as start­ing small op­er­a­tions in pi­lot ar­eas but rapidly learn­ing and it­er­at­ing, for ex­am­ple – In­dia can be­come a global leader in drone ser­vices. How­ever, it will re­quire strong col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween govern­ment, busi­ness and civil so­ci­ety lead­ers to fully re­al­ize this vi­sion.

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