June 15, 2021 6:49:57 am
In first such attempt in the country to use drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for delivery of medicines and packaged material including food, a consortia led by ANRA technologies — a company having operations in the United States, the United Kingdom and India, will be conducting trials at two sites beginning Wednesday. One of the sites for trials is Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Ropar campus, where the exercise is scheduled to be conducted in the last week of this month.
In a related development, HLL Infra Tech Services Limited, on behalf of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has invited expression of interest (EOI) for delivery of medical supplies (vaccine drugs) at selected locations in India. The last date for submission of online bids, invited on June 11, is June 22.
HLL Infra Tech Services Limited, known as ‘HITES’ is a 100 per cent subsidiary of HLL Lifecare Limited (a Mini Ratna PSU) under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Vaccine delivery by drones
Citing current pandemic situation, the HLL tender document reads that “different agencies are helping the government to prevent and control the transmission of Covid-19. ICMR as a part of Department of Health Research (DHR) is one of the leading agency giving the solution to various issues …diagnosis, vaccines, treatment etc. Vaccines are the foremost preventive tool to mitigate Covid transmission…. To strengthen the delivery of vaccines, ICMR successfully conducted a feasibility study to deliver vaccines by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in collaboration with IIT, Kanpur. Based on the preliminary results of the study, ICMR has developed a standard protocol for successful delivery of vaccine using a UAV. Now, based on the experience gained in the feasibility study ICMR is keen to develop a model for vaccine delivery by UAVs in the field practice area to reach areas to cover last mile coverage at different terrain in selected locations.”
Giving specifications, the tender document read that UAV should be able to cover a minimum aerial distance of 35 km with a vertical altitude of minimum of 100 metre and carry minimum payload of 4 kg.
Trial to be over by year-end
The consortium led by ANRA, meanwhile, includes IIT Ropar, along with online food order and delivery platform Swiggy and Greater Noida-based Better Drones.
The trials, for which the consortia went through a lengthy procedure to obtain various permissions, including from Ministry of Home Affairs, Director General of Civil Aviations and other concerned departments, will be monitored by a committee of experts and start from a location around Jawra village in Etah district of Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday (June 16).
In the trials at Jawra, the delivery of medicines would be carried out through drones in an earmarked area with pick up and drop off places. ANRA India Operations Director Brij Mohan said over phone: “The idea is to depict the capabilities of platform. It will be all monitored by a committee of experts and officials. The drones have to fly below 400 feet above ground level. They would go beyond visual line of sight of 450 metres, and in these trials up to 5 km, with a payload carrying capacity of 3 to 4 kg.”
He added: “The findings and data of the trials and experimentation would be submitted to DGCA after an analysis by experts including around 100 engineers at ANRA technologies. All the trials would be complete by this year-end and subsequently after receiving and analysing the reports, the government will seek feedback from the public for framing rules and regulations to roll out it for public.”
According to Mohan, initially it was decided to start trials from IIT Ropar campus, but due to Covid restrictions, requirements like RT-PCR reports and permission requirements from local authorities, the exercise was rescheduled and Jawra was selected a first site.
“In the trials, drones will fly for 100 hours collectively at both locations for the compilation of the data and findings,” told Mohan.
Elaborating the role of IIT Ropar, Professor in Mechanical Engineering Department and head of Corporate Relations Cell in IIT Ropar, Dr Srikant Sekhar Padhee, said, “We will do mapping and analysis of the exercise carried out by consortia partners. IIT Ropar will take care of overall logistical operation and post processing of the data which would help that drone should work autonomously as it would be beyond visual line of sight. Subsequently, the learning would be implemented in the use of the technology for public use.”
Dr Padhee added, “The IIT role in the experiment also includes synchronization of things, which will include analysis of data in terms of location co-ordinates.” He said that the online maps only showed X and Y values of a location co-ordinate. “We have to customise things in terms of heights also as there could be illegal constructions in a given area which could hamper the drone’s movement to any particular site.”
Pointing out that ANRA technologies was first to carry out such trials and that Covid pandemic had delayed the exercise which was planned for last year, Mohan added, “Apart from obtaining all the required permissions from different government departments, we have also gone in for insurance, including third party insurance, in case there is some mishap, for instance there is some bird strike with the drone and it crashes down on someone.”
ANRA which is spearheading the exercise was born as a “paper napkin idea”, as per its website. Mohan said ANRA technologies Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Amit Ganjoo, an aviation industry enthusiast gave up his job as an engineer in US defence services and went on to manufacture a twin-seater aircraft after he took a decision to start the company while eating out at a restaurant in 2015. Ganjoo, who originally hails from Kashmir valley, is an alumnus of Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, before be moved to United States in 1996 and did Masters there, said Mohan, adding that “he is an aviation enthusiast and a licensed pilot.”
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