Given drones can execute critical functions in times of social distancing, policy must facilitate this.
A Chennai-based start-up, Garuda, used drones to sanitise the area around a hospital. Now, PTI reports IIT Guwahati is following the Chennai model and creating a drone of its own. Meanwhile, Garuda has been contacted by states like Odisha and Uttar Pradesh to develop drones for them. The drone, in this case, uses Google Maps to sanitise the area; it can cover 1.2 ha in one flight, and up to 60 ha in one day, all within a signal range of 3km. Technology can aid social distancing even as it ensures that critical functions that otherwise required human involvement are not stalled.
While drones have been used by states in Maharashtra for delivery of essential medicines, and across the country for assessment of crop damage, the DGCA’s policy for drones has been restrictive. It first imposed a ban on drones, and only in 2018 did it release the Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) 1.0. These stipulated that companies incorporate no-permission-no-takeoff device in their drones so that no drone could fly without permission from DGCA.
While the process was made simpler with the release of the Digital Sky app, it was still not perfect as it did not allow autonomous operations, or flight beyond visual line of sight. The government did come out with new draft regulations in January last year that allowed this, but still hasn’t notified these. With many firms like Garuda ready to provide critical services, there is a need for policy changes that enables this. The government can take the help of such start-ups to enable delivery of essentials to reach more people. The government showed admirable intent to adapt when it passed the telemedicine guidelines after nearly a decade. Now, it it should do this for drones.