Drones Take Off To Fight COVID-19 And Should Land On Ethical Grounds With Drone Policy

India enters the third phase of the lockdown with a few relaxations in measures and a hope that by the end of the month, activities should resume normally. Shutters open for non-essential item shops, the private sector can have a limited number of employees reaching office, and all precautionary measures have been laid out for the public. 

The country is categorized in 3 zones as of now- red, orange and green based on the number of cases. There are containment zones too which are the most serious kind. For districts that have managed to retain a green zone have either not recorded any case or have successfully flattened the curve. 

Technology has played a major role in flattening the curve and fighting the deadly virus. Artificial intelligence, Aarogya Setu app, Big Data, Autonomous tools, Analytics, Location Mapping, etc have been deployed in various sectors and regions to contain the virus. Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have performed to the best of capabilities in helping central and state governments fight the battle. 

Where have drones been used in India?

Announcing a lockdown is the first step and ensuring it is all the following steps. To catch any individual violating the lockdown restrictions, the Goa police used drones to keep an eye on densely populated regions. Goa is now declared a green zone. On similar lines, the Bengaluru police armed itself with drones, social media, and chatbots to catch violators and assess the spread of the virus. 

Apart from surveillance, drones were also used to disinfect Varanasi with the help of Chennai based startup Garuda Aerospace. This was achieved by the collaboration of Invest India with India’s National Investment Promotion Agency through the AGNI Mission, and Invest India’s Business Immunity Platform (BIP).

One of the first few states to have announced a flattened curve, Kerala has used technology at its optimum use to fight the virus. Drones and geo-based fencing were used by the government to track the movement of people, keep an eye on those quarantines and ensure lockdown restrictions. 

Read: How drones can be game changers in combating Covid-19 crisis

How have drones been used across the world to fight the pandemic?

Surveillance has been a common use of drones across the world to keep check on the movement of people and ensure there isn’t a violation of lockdown rules. Apart from this, some european countries and China have been using drones to send across messages and announcements. The drone has an amplifier that broadcasts the message of staying inside, wearing a mask, and so on. 

Like Varanasi, other countries like UAE, Chile, Indonesia, Philippines and China have been loading up agriculture spray drones with disinfectants to spray in affected areas.  A drone is more powerful than manual spraying since a covers a larger area and efficiently reaches all the spots. 

Delivery of medicines and essential items to hospitals is the need of the hour and to ensure that drones have been carrying the supplies. In parts of the US, China, and Australia, they have also been using it to deliver other commodities via drones. By using a drone, the supplies reach faster and there is no need to get in contact with another person to acquire supplies. 

The most common symptom of COVID-19 is a fever and to check that across the country, China deployed a drone with infrared cameras to check the temperature of people. By doing this, people don’t have to leave their house to get a check-up, there is no need for contact with the infected person and it is quicker to assess the number of people affected. 

The drone policy in India

The drone regulations in India have been quite restricted before the outbreak of coronavirus. There are multiple laws around drones that make the ownership of the vehicle complicated. The Civil Aviation Requirement drone policy says that an aerial survey can be undertaken by pilots after they get a NOC (No Objection Certificate) from a web portal with the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) giving permission. 

All drones should be enrolled on this portal and they will be given a unique digital number plate that will help the authorities keep track of it in case there is an unfortunate activity. Another regulation is around the visual line of sight of the operator that is BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight). The regulation calls for a limit of 400 ft for beyond operations. 

However, the emergency situation has led the authorities to operate drones. In such situations, it also becomes difficult to not cover more areas beyond sight. The security and misuse of drones continue to remain a top concern but the potential of drones as a safety tool has also created a place of its own. 

Drone startups have been actively helping state and central governments in fighting the virus and maybe, there can be some changes in the drone policy after the virus is defeated. These Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are used by Governments at the moment so there is no security concern. The Indian laws may be made more inclusive of drone startups and find a strong security measure too that ensures drones are used well even when there isn’t an emergency. However, with better laws, the drone sector can take off and also be grounded by ethics. 

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