Silhouette of flying drone in glowing red sunset sky

View from India: Drones to boost economy across various sectors

Image credit: Ig0rzh - Dreamstime

Drone technology can give an impetus to the economy by adding value to numerous sectors. This includes rural-urban land mapping, food security, energy and medical supply; it can also pave the way for green-energy initiatives and make cities sustainable. Clearly drone technology can impact life on ground as well as throw light on aqua life through satellite imagery.

Coming to a drone's functioning, the pilot’s input should be minimal and mostly confined to timely decisions. This can be possible only if the drone is fully equipped. “The drone should be enabled with on-board sensors for easier navigation. It means that the drone technology should be powerful enough to achieve the desired results. This can happen through AI-led sensors, compute, machine learning, deep learning and computer vision, which enable the drone to plan its course,” said Vipul Singh, co-founder and CEO of Aarav Unmanned Systems (AUS), at the 3rd NASSCOM XperienceAI Virtual Summit 2022.

To illustrate, the drone should be able to navigate air-related disturbances such as wind turbines. This could be an opportunity for equipping oneself with drone management. Drone professionals need to collect weather data, and leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor and interpret the data to orient the drone towards a weather-friendly direction. AUS manufactures survey-grade drones and provides drone-based end-to-end integrated managed solutions for applications in urban planning, industrial areas, smart cities, micro-irrigation, watershed, mining, power and infrastructure.

AI-based drone data can facilitate various forms of transport to take informed decisions for routing journeys. Sensing its potential, Gujarat has launched a new policy for state departments and organisations. The policy, which is for five years, aims to create a drone ecosystem to perform public services – this is expected to generate 25,000 jobs.

Coming to agriculture, drones can be leveraged to assess and classify crops. India’s 660,000 villages are being captured through drones and geospatial technology. 3D maps across 100 Indian cities are being prepared just as rural properties are being digitised.

Drones could take leadership in societies by improving the overall sustainability. AI can be used for making drones smarter and extract more value from the drone data; this leads to incremental value creation from the ecosystem. As per the Drone (Amendment) Rules 2022, a remote pilot certificate will not be required for flying small to medium-sized drones of up to 2kg for non-commercial purposes.

A lot can be achieved through drones. Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh brought together drone manufacturers, service providers, drone enthusiasts, students and farmers through its drone mela (fair) last December. The initiative seems to have whetted the market and struck a chord with the people. No surprise that Gwalior launched its first drone school this year; the platform will train pilots and generate employment.

Geospatial, computer science and location intelligence along with drone technology can give a value add to industries. “Geospatial and AI are the need of the hour. Our world is weighed down by challenges in the form of infrastructure, water crisis, wild fires and the more recent pandemic. With drone technology we need to use IoT [Internet of Things] and 3D images. This can be used to take the data and transcend to what the information can be. Examples could be edge devices, mobile devices and notebooks,” explained Jay Theodore, chief technology officer at Esri, an end-to-end Geographic Information Systems software and solutions provider.

Geo AI integrated with deep learning and machine learning can help solve complex problems. The power of GIS can be expanded to build autonomous systems to achieve end-to-end geospatial systems, with inputs from cameras and sensors. The user experience can be integrated to create models, which can be categorised and catalogued based on building footprints and land cover. The Python API (Application Programming Interface) is one of the most advanced enablers for such measures. Practical applications of geo AI include change detection in road infrastructure and climatic conditions; a detection tool can fast-track problem-solving initiatives. Further, the GIS and AI system can help store and analyse data. Geo AI integrated with geographic thinking can address many of the world’s challenges.

It’s not just drones but data should be the base for everything. “Good data and good AI should be seen as the starting point for anything. For instance, data can be used to study people’s preferences. Or else, data can be used to monitor a patient’s health. Can algorithms detect abnormalities in a person, product or situation? For this, AI could help strategise data for decision making,” said Dr Hannah Fry, British mathematician and best-selling author.

To think of it, data could be leveraged to set up a system to optimise it for best results. AI analytics can be leveraged in problem solving; AI ethics or safety is an important issue. Can artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) go on the same path as AI? After all, narrow AI is about the computer performing a single task thoroughly. So then do we need fundamental physics or scientific breakthroughs to execute it? I leave you with these thoughts.

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