Imagine getting a pizza delivered to your doorstep by a drone, or a new pair of shoes that you just bought online being flown to you by an unmanned aerial vehicle. No, this isn’t just a publicity stunt or something that will happen only in Seattle or New York. In fact, if all goes well, this could be a reality in India by as early as next year.
Amazon has already filed for a patent in India for exclusive rights on a a type of delivery drone in India.
After years of restricting the use of drones, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation came out with a draft drone policy in November.
“The policy is futuristic and innovation friendly. The extensive ground work and intent behind its formulation is highly encouraging for drone companies and exponents,” Vignesh Santhanam of Quidich Innovation Labs, a leading aerial drone solution company in Mumbai, told BloombergQuint.
Quidich Innovation Labs was started by a bunch of drone enthusiasts from the garage of one of the co-founders. And what started out as a tool for filmmaking has now become a full fledged aerial drone solutions company in the last four years. The young founders of the company say the fact that the draft drone policy is in place has proved to be very good for business.
Ketan Kothari, Director at law firm Khaitan & Co., told BloombergQuint that although some issues are still to be addressed by the policy, the draft document is a welcome step towards regulating drones in India, which until now were banned.
“The government has studied regulations in other jurisdictions and thereafter proposed the new norms with a view to safeguarding privacy and security concerns and encourage ease of doing business in India with drone technology. This could provide a much-needed boost to the ‘Make in India’ campaign of the government...More players will follow soon (after Amazon) with the new regulatory framework being in place,” he said.
The futuristic drone policy is at the draft stage and so will keep changing with time before the final draft is in place, but there are still some pain points for drone companies. For instance, fully autonomous drones cannot be operated in India. Fully autonomous drones are required for high precision tasks in agriculture and in factories and the lack of human interaction can largely reduce the scope for error.
The draft policy also prohibits the use of drones in the night and beyond the visual line of sight. The latter could prove to be detrimental to flying drones in the national capital, considering the low visibility due to the alarming levels of air pollution.
“The beyond visual line of sight is a huge question mark around the world in regulation. But the beauty with these machines is that they are not just manually driven anymore. They come with a lot of technology embedded into the system like GPS, a ‘return to home feature’ and even built in obstacle avoidance features as well,” said Rahat Kulshreshtha, chief executive officer at Quidich Innovation Labs.
Also, there’s altitude restrictions which might need to be reworked for metros like Mumbai, which have now become a concrete jungle. The draft policy restricts the operational altitude of micro, mini and heavier drones to 200 feet above ground level, which is equal to the height of a 20-storey building.