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Indian Express Stories of Strength

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Gujarat’s ‘drone squad’ crowdsources eyes in the sky

The drone surveillance helps the Gujarat Police keep an eye on lockdown violators, make announcements in congested areas and even spray disinfectants.

April 28, 2020 8:45:07 pm

NEW DELHI, AHMEDABAD: Despite the lockdown, Nikhil Methiya has an early start these days. Every morning, the founder of Drone Labs has to coordinate local drone teams working with the Ahmedabad police.

Methiya’s startup is helping the Gujarat government and local health agencies fight the novel coronavirus pandemic in the state. Head of the Gujarat Drone Squad, he floated the idea of bringing drone hobbyists, manufacturers and pilots together to help the police monitor social distancing efforts in the state which has of late emerged as a Covid-19 hotspot.

“I am like that only. If something is not right in the country we should all come forward,” Methiya told indianexpress.com over a phone call. He makes it a point to convey that along with doctors and the police, many entrepreneurs and businessmen too are chipping in.

The drone surveillance helps the Gujarat Police keep an eye on lockdown violators, make announcements in congested areas and even spray disinfectants. The initiative is purely voluntary, Methiya explained, adding that there was never any intention to earn any money.

Methiya’s startup is helping the Gujarat government and local health agencies fight the novel coronavirus pandemic in Gujarat.

“Three weeks ago, we had made an appeal to drone pilots across the state to help the police nab violators and the response was phenomenal…we have over 100 drone pilots in Ahmedabad and over 320 in Gujarat,” said Methiya.

The Gujarat Drone Squad now has implemented two models — decentralised and centralised — for deployment.

In the decentralised approach, pilots and other volunteers are working directly with local police and using over 150 drones. “So far, we have been working in a decentralised manner where pilots accompany a police team and then fly the aircraft in specific areas in order to catch the violators. But with the extension of the lockdown, we are now moving towards a centralised model,” said Methiya.

Under the centralised model, a monitoring system has been set up at the police commissioner’s office from where their locations are monitored and the video feeds analysed. “The pilots are being asked to fly the drones from their homes in the vicinity of 1.2-1.5 kilometers and provide live footage to the Shahibaug-based control room in Ahmedabad. As the live footage shows the violators, the local police station is immediately informed to reach the spot and nab them. Based on the live footage, we do mapping of the city using Google Earth, which helps the police in analysing timing and areas of the city where maximum violations occur.”

Inside the centralised monitoring unit at the office of the police commissioner.

Methiya said the pilots must have prior flying experience. “As drones usually have a limited range, we ask them to fly it to their range of sight. To ensure privacy of police work, we have asked the pilots to use the memory cards provided by the police and hand it over to them once the task is over.”

There is some high tech innovation also in the works. “We have made an application that uses AI to identify if people are maintaining the social distance of 1.5 meters from each other when these drones fly over them,” Methiya explained. There are also drones equipped with thermal cameras that can identify people with high temperatures in a crowd.

The drone flying squad is also working on developing a system whereby the drone pilot can help the local police and corporation in the area without stepping out of his house. Under the ‘Fly from Home’ project, the team has connected the available drones in the city to a centralised dashboard. So whenever the police want to track a particular area in the city, they can simply tell the nearby drone pilot to go to the terrace and fly the drone.

The drone flying squad is also working on developing a system whereby the drone pilot can help the local police and corporation in the area without stepping out of his house.

Underlining the effectiveness of the project, a senior Ahmedabad police officer said the drones can reach areas where police cannot. “A centralised system of live drone surveillance footage will only help us in nabbing offenders and ensuring that the lockdown is in place,” he added.

As a next step, Methiya plans to help health agencies moved medical samples weighing up to 1 kg with larger drones. He is also thinking of playing Gujarati songs through the drone’s loudspeakers to entertain people.

– With inputs from ENS, Ahmedabad

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