India got its own drone policy in August this year, but the country has not yet witnessed an uptick in drone usage. That could soon change as food delivery app Zomato has been taking steps towards making drone food delivery a reality in India.
Taking its first step in realising drone food delivery, Zomato acquired Lucknow-based start-up TechEagle Innovations.
TechEagle was founded in 2015 by Vikram Singh Meena, an alum of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. TechEagle largely focuses on developing customised unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are capable of carrying up to a 5 kg payload.
“While we are at a nascent stage, we believe that drones powering last-mile delivery is an inevitable part of the future. The factors which crippled the sector in the past years are now in favour its development,” a Zomato spokesperson told Live Mint when asked about the prospects of drone delivery in India.
“So, with the right set of people, favourable government regulations and aerial technological advancements, drone delivery will be a game changer in the food delivery space,” the spokesperson added.
What is Zomato planning?
According to the Live Mint report, Zomato said that it was working on coming up with hub-to-hub delivery networks and designing multi-rotor drones that could carry a payload of under 5 kg. The company is set to run a pilot programme in Delhi-NCR and eventually test it in other cities.
Zomato is also confident that its drone technology will be able to address the geographical challenges that India poses, such as India’s complex address system or its narrow lanes.
The company added that its drone delivery system will be completely automated with “minimal on ground supervision”. The initial version of the system will require some human intervention as delivery is only destined for hub-to-hub, but the system will eventually be able to deliver food directly at a user’s doorstep.
“We are also developing a collision-avoiding system with 360-degree sensors that will sense any obstacle, such as a bird or another drone, at 50 metres distance and change the course accordingly for a smooth delivery,” the company spokesperson said.
India’s new drone policy
In August, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) announced its policy for remotely piloted aircraft, or drones. India’s first done policy came into effect from December 1, 2018. The new policy defined what will be classified as remotely piloted aircraft, how such aircrafts can be flown, and what restrictions they will have to operate under.
As per the policy, the basic operating procedure will restrict drone flights to the daytime only and that too within “Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)”.
The DGCA has also clarified that no remote pilot can operate more than one drone at any time. The drones cannot have any human or animal payloads, or anything hazardous, and they should not cause any type of danger to people or property.
The guidelines, however, will not permit e-commerce and food delivery companies to use drones to make last mile deliveries.
Other upcoming drone projects
Earlier reports mentioned that Union Minister for Aviation Jayant Sinha had said that the concerned authorities were looking at creating “drone ports” in hospitals.
“We will begin registration from December 1 and then the required licences will be issued from a month later to accord drones a legal status in India. We are working on the next step of our recently announced drone policy where we are looking at allowing flying drones beyond line of sight (enabling operators to fly drones without having them in sight) in certain areas,” Sinha told the Economic Times.
In August, the Maharashtra government had plans to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to use drone technology that was developed by its aerospace engineers for estimating area, yield, and health of soyabean and cotton.
Drone delivery services
Amazon made its first drone delivery on December 7, 2016, and was able to complete the delivery inside 30 minutes. The online retailer is testing whether Amazon Prime Air can function in several international locations where customers can receive goods in 30 minutes or less.
UPS delivery systems is another company that is betting big on drone deliveries. The company plans to use the top of its vans as mini-helipads. Google and DHL are also exploring ways to deliver packages with drones instead of trucks.
The future of drone deliveries seems bright as drone variants can be used to fight climate change. Researchers found that, in some cases, using electric-powered drones instead of diesel-powered trucks or vans could reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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