The air around drone usage in India has long remained unclear and hazy, forcing the consumer end drones to remain indoors and considered as a luxury gadget.

Though things have changed in the recent past when drones were used by the administration to survey flood-impacted areas or for public announcement and even surveillance during the last year’s pandemic-induced lockdown. This has indeed increased awareness around the worth and utility of these unmanned air crafts.

The federal government had given a go-ahead to trial to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) experimental flights of drones recently, after various delays caused by the pandemic that has crippled the nation for over a year now. According to the list released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, 20 different entities have been allowed to run experimental drone flights.

Since the future of drone deliveries will be decided based on these test flights, these approved groups will only be able to conduct test drone deliveries and surveillance in a regulatory sandbox, under the supervision of a monitoring team. Below are a few such projects that are expected to kick-off as early as this week. 

TAS led medicinal delivery trials in Bengaluru 

A consortium led by Bengaluru based Throttle Aerospace Systems or TAS will pilot its trials beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) medical drone from June 18 onwards. Under this trial, it will attempt to deliver medicines by drones for a period of 30-45 days in Gauribidanur taluk, around 80 km from Bengaluru.

The company will use two variants of MedCOPTER drones – the smaller MedCOPTER drone can deliver a payload of up to 1 kg and has a range of 15 km While the other variant can carry 2kg and can travel up to 12 km. These drones will be assisted by a delivery software named RANDINT.

The guidelines from the DGCA require them to fly for at least 100 hours, however, TAS is looking to fly for at least 125 hours during the trial period. The consortium has partnered with Narayana Healthcare for the supply of medicines and this trial will help Narayana Healthcare assess the long-term feasibility based on cost and other expenses.

Another key aspect of this trial will be user privacy, where the drone delivery service provider will not be aware of the recipient of the medicines, but will only operate to deliver the medicines to a preloaded address.

Flipkart’s Medicines from the Sky in Telangana 

A similar attempt is being made by Walmart-backed e-commerce major Flipkart in Telangana. Here Flipkart will lead the consortium under the ‘Medicines from the Sky’ project which will last for 24 days with four batches attempting deliveries for Covid-19 patents, six days each.

These drones will carry cold storage boxes with vaccines and will be equipped with temperature sensors and data loggers to record the performance.

To facilitate this trial, Flipkart will offer its expertise in logistics and deliveries by helping with technologies like geo-mapping, routing of shipments and track and trace of location etc.

The idea behind this trial is to assess the scope of medicinal deliveries, not only during the current pandemic-like situation but also during natural disasters, to remote and inaccessible areas.

The pilot project will be launched in the Vikarabad district and the first phase of flights with specific groups are expected to begin in the last week of June.

Other trials 

While drones are extremely useful in delivering medications, surveillance, public announcements, disaster management and more, they can also come in handy for delivering stuff like food, groceries etc by hyper-local delivery companies. Hence the other leg of trials companies like Zomato and Swiggy are testing drones for food deliveries in the outskirts of Alwar, Rajasthan.

On the other hand, hyper-local delivery startup Dunzo is attempting to deliver medicines in Telangana under the ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project. Both Zomato and Dunzo are said to be aided by the management consulting firm Alternative Global India (AGI) during these trials.

The result of these trials could bring a landmark change in the way in not only how drones are perceived in India but it could be a game-changer in disaster management and the healthcare industry.

The usage of drones is expected to go mainstream as well as deliveries from your favourite food joint or last-mile deliveries from e-commerce companies will also become efficient and faster.

That being said, it is just a step in the right direction and we will have to wait for the trials to get over with a positive outcome. 

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