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Drones: A New Way Of Tackling India’s Urban Planning And Management Issue

Whether it is to give farmers a better way to understand their fields through more frequent inspection or mapping urban areas for better provision of settlement, assessing the better quality of energy efficiency, drones can transform the way we are running our industries in India

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In this day and age, people are discovering all sorts of resourceful methods to increase efficiency and maximize profits by using modern drone technology. But just a few years back you might have never heard about the term “Drones” in a positive connotation. Whenever there is a mention of Drones, you might have thought of attacks, wars, crisis etc. But now Drones have opened up such possibilities for humans that exploring the world’s deepest corners have now become a much easier job. Drone is not just limited for military purposes, they have also been used by civilians across the world for a diverse set of non-conflict use cases such as helping surveyors, miners, farmers with their fields, industrial inspection, precision agriculture as well as for simple recreational activity.

But then again, the potential to impact urban planning and landscape architecture has been lacking. As cities rapidly urbanize, governments worldwide face the challenge of improving living conditions for the most vulnerable urban population. Hereon, the small but sophisticated professional grade drones are set to become a crucial instrument in the administrators, tax collector, architect and urban planner’s toolbox. The effort to improve sub-standard living conditions in unplanned settlements is often hindered due to a lack of adequate geographical information describing the baseline situation and changes occurring during and after the upgrading process.

UAV uplifts urban design
Today with increasing urbanization, cities are facing extraordinary changes. Without proper infrastructure, we face disadvantageous problems of congestion, pollution and more. So, to upraise the condition of urbanization, developers are experimenting with integrating UAS technology to improve things like energy efficiency, project progress monitoring, sewage design, utility establishment and detect illegal constructions, encroachments etc.

Urban development and management requires intense planning, accurate detection and timely execution. Scanning and precision of areas traditionally require large sensors, lot of manual work and manned aircraft. The greatest challenge these industry professionals face today is collecting decent information and data. And as sustainability and climate change gradually empower cities to make decisions with limited resources, the need for data-driven decision-making has become ever more essential. This is where city planners, landscape architects, administrators and tax collectors are finding the potential of UAS technology to transform urban planning and management where Low-cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) could provide very detailed, up-to-date geographical information for small areas as and when required.

States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha have already conducted trials for the usage of drone technology for Urban planning, management and change detection for revenue collection from industrial and residential areas. Some of the trials resulted in more than 30% improvement in illegal construction detection and almost 20% increase in revenue collection from a particular area.  A couple of these states have even floated RFPs recently for full-fledged deployment of drones at regular intervals. Days are not far when cities in these states will have buzzing sound of drones everywhere.

Future Prospects of Drone Technology in India
Evolutionary journey of drone technology in India is at a different point than in western countries. But the prospects are promising under the right set of regulations and policies, drones can contribute a lot to the society as well as help in many ecological problems which is hounding us for many years. The fast adoption of Drone technology in India would further provide a push to the mega projects in India particularly to the urban settlement, mining, transportation, energy and agriculture. Also, evidence based decisions are increasingly becoming critical to interventions and delivery of services. In such a scenario, access to reliable data becomes crucial for holistic and inclusive policy making and successful implementation.

Thus, drones have commercial value who provide a much cheaper alternative to manned flight, and enable applications that were impossible earlier. Unfortunately, most new technologies come with their own dangers, and drones are no exception. For these reasons, the regulatory bodies in other countries have limited the public use of drones. In India, DGCA regulatory authority under the Ministry of Civil Aviation, has banned UAVs since October 2014 due to safety and security issue. However, bans cannot be a substitute for it. In the case of civilian drones, platforms like Digital Sky with fast track permission process with No Permission No Takeoff concept, closer monitoring, cooperation with border forces, involvement of local authorities, and higher security clearances are some alternative approaches that could better balance the tension. For that our drone regulations need to create this balance. India is also putting in place the final regulatory framework which will encourage commercial use of drones in areas as diverse as construction to agriculture potentially to give a new industry that could give a billion dollar revenues and thousands of jobs in return. The regulatory framework covers ownership, operations and pilot license but there is a need to ease up norms for manufacturing and export of drones.

Whether it is to give farmers a better way to understand their fields through more frequent inspection or mapping urban areas for better provision of settlement, assessing the better quality of energy efficiency, drones can transform the way we are running our industries in India.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Vipul Singh

The author is Co-founder and CEO, Aarav Unmanned Systems

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