Knowledge Workshop to Assess Technology, Applications and Policy Aspects of Unmanned Aerial Systems
IIAEM, Jain University (JU) organized a day long workshop on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to provide a platform for experts – invited from government, industry, and academia – to discuss the technology, applications and policy aspects of UAS, and assess the benefits that can be brought to society. Engineering students at JU are actively involved in aero-modeling clubs, where they build and fly low-cost radio-controlled aircraft and this workshop enabled both policy and technical issues to be addressed for the benefit of all the participants.
The workshop was supported by Karnataka Jnana Aayoga (Karnataka Knowledge Commission), Government of Karnataka in collaboration with Institution of Engineers (India) – Karnataka State Centre (IEI-KSC), National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), and GITAM University with the intention of enabling Karnataka to take a lead in this area.
In May 2014, global media outlets reported a pizza restaurant in Mumbai using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to successfully deliver a pizza to the top of a skyscraper located more than a kilometer away. This event was hailed as a pioneering one and caught the attention several sections of people, including the Mumbai police. The police, after checking with the Air Traffic Control, wanted to know why the restaurant had not taken prior official permission to use the UAV. On the other hand, with the due assent of the concerned authorities, a private video-services company collaborated with a news media company to capture panoramic images of crowds using these UAVs or drones, as they are popularly called during the National Elections held in 2014. Indeed government agencies such as the National Disaster Management Authority had already effectively deployed four UAVs for search and rescue operations during the floods in Uttarakhand in 2014. Another successful usage of the use of UAV has been made by the officials at the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh to monitor poaching.Indian companies that sell UAVs are reporting a growing enthusiasm shown by individuals who want to buy and fly them. This enthusiasm is mainly due to two reasons- the first is that UAVs are simple to fly and require only a few hours of training; the second is their low cost. These factors have led to what can be termed as the democratization of flying. However, it is evident that this democratization can also have negative consequences as UAVs can potentially become lethal flying objects in the wrong hands. In addition, they can also pose privacy concerns. Moreover, some of these vehicles may not be equipped with the necessary technological safety features that can ensure that there will be no loss to people or property during their operation.UAVs can bring immense benefits to Indian civilian society. But, there are several issues on diverse fronts that have to be addressed in order to tap these benefits effectively. In addition, a UAV, which is a component of a more complex UAS, is a classic medium of a “systemic education model” of a complex engineering system which is amenable to lab research and innovation and which requires knowledge of several disciplines of engineering.
It was inaugurated by the Vice-Chancellor of JU, Dr N Sundararajan. Also present on the occasion was Dr. Mukund Rao, Member-Secretary of KJA. He described the initiatives taken by KJA that have made the state of Karnataka a leader in the use of technology for better governance and also mentioned the potential of UAS being a disruptive technology that can change traditional modes of thinking in several areas, given their ease of operation and their diverse utility. Prof R M Vasagam, Chairman of IEI-KSC delivered the key lecture. He assured the audience that India is equipped with adequate resources to meet any technological challenge and expressed that it is only through industry-academia interaction that quantum jumps can be achieved in technological developments. Also, the inaugural session witnessed a video-conference by Mr Bharat Lal Meena, Principal Secretary of the Department of Higher Education, GoK. He identified important challenges in governance that needed up-to-date information for decision support and welcomed new initiatives like those being addressed by the workshop.
The workshop comprised two sessions with talks on Technological Aspects of UAS and the Applications and Policy Needs, respectively. Representatives of institutions such as National Design Research Forum (NDRF), National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), NIAS, Department of Forests, GoK, DGCA; and private industry such as Drone Aerospace Systems Pvt Ltd and Johnnette Technologies Pvt Ltd presented their ideas in the workshop. These sessions were chaired by Lt Lt Gen (Dr) V J Sundaram, NDRF, Dr P K Srivastava, retired Eminent Scientist from ISRO, Dr B N Suresh, President of INAE and Maj Gen (Dr) R Sivakumar, Pro-VC of GITAM University. The workshop concluded with a discussion by a panel of noted and experienced experts and users who shared their experiences on issues faced in the development and usage of technology and how these lessons can be used in implementation of UAS technologies. Another important element of the workshop was the live technological demonstrations of various UAS.
In the session on technology demonstrations, there were demonstrations of autonomous flying of UAS. In these presentations, the aircraft was programmed to fly autonomously in a path constructed using GPS data. Both aircrafts were equipped with video cameras and communication modules which transmitted, in real-time, the view while flying. It was also possible to change the orientation of the cameras to gather different perspectives. This session also included aerobatic flying displays by radio-controlled helicopters (from students of JU) as well as a fixed-winged aircraft. The panel discussion – moderated by Dr Mukund Rao and participated by Dr Baldev Raj, Director, NIAS, Mr Shyam Chetty, Director, NAL, Prof Sridhar Murthi, Director, IIAEM, Dr N G R Iyengar, Pro-VC, JU, Mr K V Rudresh, Assistant Director (Land Records), GoK, and Mr S B Honnur, Director, Dept of Town Planning, GoK – which followed the technical demonstrations, concluded that UAS are soon going to be a reality in the Indian civilian space and that it is only by having a well-thought out policy and regulatory mechanism – akin to automobiles – can their use be monitored without violating privacy concerns. Also, for India to “catch-up” with the latest developments in this technology, it is important for academia, industry, and government to work together. The discussions in this workshop can be considered as an important first-step in this journey.
KEY HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TECHNICAL SESSIONS
Technological Issues: Although there exist several indigenous UAS, very few of them have transitioned from a prototype to an operational stage. This issue can be addressed by involving the end-users in the development phase and setting-up of funded programs – focusing on improving reliability, packaging design, simplifying production – that can ultimately lead to a rugged and feasible product. As emphasized by Dr G Ramesh from NAL, technological challenges such as image processing, improving endurance using technologies such as fuel-cells, autonomous flight and many others still have to be tackled effectively.
Standardization and Testing: There are challenges in the areas of design, production and quality control which have to meet and subsystems bought off-the-shelf need to be standardized. There is a need to develop protocols for identification of UAS so that they can be integrated with Air Traffic Control (ATC) policies. Dr K Ramachandra from NDRF suggested that several of the country’s unused airports/airstrips equipped with ATC stations can be used as UAS test sites.
Policy and Regulations: Currently, the DGCA mandates that civilian use of UAS requires clearance from the departments of Defence, Home Affairs, Telecommunications, and other security agencies. It is also in the process of classifying UAS for model/recreational or commercial purposes and the issuance of a Unique Identification Number. At this time, it is stressed that systems weighing above 150 kg and those with variable payloads will not be permitted to fly. Several speakers emphasized the need for a clear policy on usage of UAS as it is the only way that large civilian applications market can be tapped. This would result in a spurt in education and research in this field and hence development of manufacturing capabilities.
Cultural Issues: As a UAS is a multi-disciplinary technology – requiring competencies in the areas of mechanical and aerospace engineering, electronics, materials to name a few – the cultural challenge faced in the development of such systems, which require a versatile and multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving, needs to be addressed. Dr Krishna Venkatesh, Dean of Research (JU), suggested the use of methods such as continued training which would lead to the usage of a common language across various skill sets. In addition, as mentioned by Maj Gen (Dr) R Sivakumar, as a UAS is also a cross-domain technology that is used by civilian, intelligence, and defence agencies, a coordination mechanism and a rationalization within an information sharing environment should be evolved.
Advanced Technology and Education: Several of the experts stressed the importance of including UAS technologies in the engineering curriculum, primarily because UAS form ideal platforms for youngsters to learn multi-disciplinary design paradigms. In addition, as highlighted by Lt Gen (Dr) V J Sundaram, there is a need for the development of technologically intensive devices, such as sensors for the detection of toxic gases or persons trapped in buildings after the occurrence of a calamity, using which the applicability of UAS is enhanced.
Applications: The low-cost and wide spectrum of UAS that are available can aid in governance by enabling data collection at the grass-root level, for instance by a panchayat on the status of the area under its jurisdiction. Attention was paid to how this technology can be integrated with the National and Karnataka Geographical Information Systems (K-GIS) for “at-will” data acquisition in the form of images and maps. Representatives from several departments of GoK welcomed the development and availability of advanced technologies for solving governance problems and announced their readiness to support proposals for valid pilot projects. A case study of usage of UAS – a mapping study in a National Park – by the Department of Forests, GoK, was also presented by Dr R K Srivastava, Chief Conservator of Forests, GoK.