New avenues for collaboration between India, Israel in drone-related technology and solutions
Out of the different innovative technology-driven solutions and platforms, 'drones' must be one of the most intriguing and mind captivating in nature. In other words, a very 'cool' one. It is very easy to appreciate the unique angle they provide on things and to imagine the endless opportunities they can offer. However, it is another thing to actually create such solutions in a practical manner or that are economically viable. Moreover, it is even harder to 'translate' the relevance of it to the end users, should it be a small farmer or a construction worker.
It is not surprising then that the global interest in drones' civil applications is growing at an exponential speed. Beyond the obvious commercial applications, advancements in technology and reduced costs, together with their respected advantages (including reach and versatility) are some of the reasons fuelling this rapid growth.
In this respect, it is well understood why the recent announcement by The Ministry of Civil Aviation on the liberalisation of 'Drone Rules' was so well received and perceived as a bold and welcoming move, from which India could soon emerge as a global drone hub.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi voiced on Twitter: "The new Drone Rules usher in a landmark moment for this sector in India. The rules are based on the premise of trust and self-certification. Approvals, compliance requirements and entry barriers have been significantly reduced". The Prime Minister also added that, "The new Drone Rules will tremendously help startups and our youth working in this sector. It will open up new possibilities for innovation & business. It will help leverage India's strengths in innovation, technology & engineering to make India a drone hub".
As in so many other technology-driven aspects, India and Israel would find a mutual benefit in collaboration. The two very different economies tend to complement one another and leverage each other especially when making deep-tech more accessible and scalable, and relevant for the respected domestic markets as well as to global markets.
Israel is a leading developer of drones, unmanned aircraft, and autonomous vehicles, with versatile capabilities in this sector. It is well known for its related military technological sector when it comes to the use of unmanned aircrafts (UAVs), as well as to the respected uses for autonomous drones in the civilian sector. There is a strong linkage between the long history of UAV manufacturing under the defence industry and the advanced positioning the civilian industry enjoys now. Such technology transfer allows civilian implications of similar technology perfected earlier.
With dozens of drone tech startups supported by the Israeli innovation ecosystem, drone-based solutions, and services are introduced in a variety of fields including agriculture, construction, transportation, e-commerce and many more.
Such activity is encouraged by the government. For example, earlier this year, the Israeli Innovation Authority together with Transportation Ministry, the Israel Aviation Authority, Ayalon Highways Co., and the Prime Minister's Office commissioned a pilot drone project that will see hundreds of drones from a variety of companies test out their technologies in different sectors over shared airspace in the next two years. Over the course of the project, the drones from a variety of firms will make 300 flights a day in the designated area, each vehicle simulating the execution of a range of increasingly complex tasks: food delivery, transport of medicine and medical equipment, transport of packages and agricultural services.
The drones are also put to test in several non-commercial initiatives too. Recently, the Ministry of Environmental Protection became the first ministry in Israel to set up a drone unit to fight extensively against environmental offenders. It is also looking into Green Policing using drones with specialised cameras that can record videos at night using infrared or thermal vision.
Furthermore, in Israel, during the pandemic the drones were extremely helpful in enforcing the Covid-19 protocols. In the past one year, Israel has heightened its drone operations with over 3000 flights supporting countrywide efforts to fight Covid-19.
One of the most interesting sectors and perhaps the most relevant for collaboration between Israel and India would be the agriculture front.
There is a great potential for drones in promoting precision-based agriculture and in the improvement of sustainable agriculture. Drones offer effective solutions to complicated challenges and allow users to use innovative methods to reduce risk and uncertainty.
Current cutting-edge technology allows Israeli companies to offer solutions and services based on drones that provide better, cheaper and safer solutions. Drone can be used for administering pesticides and dealing with specific pests, monitoring fields and detecting crop disease at an early stage. The development of high-resolution, low-distortion multispectral camera solutions for agriculture allows the synchronization of multi-camera imagery from fast-flying drones with a single camera, providing advanced modelling.
The operation of a fleet of airborne robots provides an autonomous solution for crop management and harvesting including picking, thinning, and pruning as well as enables fruit sorting at the source with better access to treetops and an ability to work in complex terrain, such as narrow or mountainous plantations.
Machine Learning based data-driven solutions are available for analysing tree health, helping the users to identify the weak trees, tree clusters, and the health status of trees using artificial intelligence and drone imaging technologies.
As in many other fields of technology Israel and India can push through together, the use of drones (especially in agriculture) could be one of the more exciting ones.
By Jonathan Zadka
(The writer is The Consul General of Israel to South India, Bengaluru. The views are personal)