“With the government’s objective of having one drone in each village by 2030, drone pilot training has become crucial. Daksha Unmanned Systems, along with other approved institutions, is contributing to this goal by training pilots. We plan to expand our training centres to three or four additional locations this year to meet the increasing demand for drone pilots in India,” Mr. Narayanan Ramanathan, CEO, Dhaksha Unmanned Systems.
To learn more about drone pilot training centres in India, services offered in various sectors, and partnerships with colleges and organizations, employment opportunities and more, we spoke with Mr. Narayanan Ramanathan, CEO, Dhaksha Unmanned Systems.
Below are a few excerpts from our conversation. You can watch the full video on our YouTube channel.
Q. Please tell us more about Dhaksha Unmanned Systems.
A. Team Daksha, named by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was formed in 2001 at the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), part of Anna University. Dr. Kalam, a visionary, recognized the potential of drones and instructed his student, Prof. Senthil Kumar, to work on them. Team Daksha became one of the first teams to engage in drone-related activities. After several years of drone development, in 2011-12, the institution successfully flew its first drone, which Dr. Kalam piloted on the MIT campus in Chennai. In honour of his contribution, the place is now known as the Dr. Kalam Advanced Research Center.
Team Daksha achieved notable recognition for its work. In 2012-13, they won the DARPA Award from the US Military and later the Australian Medical Challenge. Additionally, the team actively participated in various disaster relief management efforts, including support during the Haridwar floods, Gaja Cyclone in Chennai, and the Moulivakkam building collapse. They collaborated with the state government police department and successfully rescued several individuals trapped under debris.
In 2019, a group of alumni and external investors joined Team Daksha to establish Daksha Unmanned Systems Private Limited. This development was driven by their participation in the Mehar Baba Swarm Drone Competition, organized by the Air Force, which required startup involvement. Daksha Unmanned Systems Private Limited became the first company in India to receive life certification for a hybrid IC G-based agricultural drone powered by petrol. They have also obtained certification for surveillance drones and electric agricultural drones.
The company is actively involved in skill development and training programs. They are associated with Anna University and operate as a Remote Pilot Training Organization (RPTO). To date, we have trained nearly 2000 pilots. Anna University was the first institution to receive approval from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for medium-class pilot training. As part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, Daksha Unmanned Systems trained two batches of transgender people. The company employed six of them, including two as trainers on the CSR campus. This initiative aimed to provide equal opportunities and employment for transgender people, a first of its kind in drone piloting.
Q. How do you envision the expansion of drone pilot training considering the increasing demand and the regulations surrounding drone operations?
A. The drone industry operates under strict regulations to ensure the country’s safety. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) requires certifications for commercial drone operations, especially for agricultural drones with limited capabilities and not intended for surveillance purposes. The recently introduced UAS Rules 2021 provide a clear framework for drone operations and have boosted the industry by guiding what is permissible.
In order to meet the increasing demand for drone pilots, the industry needs to establish excellence centres in various educational institutions. These centres can be set up in technical training institutes, polytechnic colleges, and engineering colleges, with support from the skill development department. The companies can contribute drones, manuals, and trained instructors to facilitate the training of students. This model would provide opportunities for students to develop their skills and knowledge in drone technology, considering they are the country’s future.
Collaborations with colleges and institutions in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu are already underway, and similar partnerships can also be established with other states. By creating these excellence centres, more people will have the opportunity to learn about drones and enhance their skill sets. While the execution of drone technology requires high-level skills, the assembly process can be trained using standard practices similar to what has been implemented in the automotive industry.
Drawing from my experience in the automotive sector, I aim to implement these practices within my company to ensure efficient training processes. This approach will meet the growing demand for skilled drone pilots and contribute to the overall development and availability of drone-related resources in the country.
Q. Can you provide more information about the services offered by Daksha Unmanned Systems and explain the difference between agricultural drones and drones used for spraying?
A. Our certified electric drone is versatile, with agriculture and crop health monitoring applications. It ensures targeted spraying on infected areas, enhancing efficiency while minimizing the impact on healthy crops. To overcome charging challenges in remote areas, our drone provides two tanks per charge and offers an alternative solution using a simple two-stroke engine powered by readily available petrol. For surveillance, our drones are certified for day and night flying up to five kilometres and feature an advanced 32 BLC LIDAR system for accurate data collection in coal mine monitoring.
We have applied our drone technology to disaster relief efforts. For example, we have collaborated with the Coast Guard in Chennai, providing drones equipped with LifeLinks to drop life rings precisely to individuals in distress. The drone can carry two or three life rings simultaneously, enabling swift and targeted rescue operations even in challenging conditions.
We prioritize defence, commercial, and civil applications, including agriculture. Our hybrid engine system offers maintenance advantages and eliminates the need for battery charging. We continuously strive to meet market demands and drive advancements in drone technology across sectors.
Fire safety is another crucial area where drones can play a significant role. We have conducted demonstrations showcasing the capabilities of our drones in fire safety applications. Drones can assess fire situations, monitor the spread of flames, and gather vital information for firefighting efforts.
Drones can play a significant role in assessing the volume of materials consumed in the civil construction sector. For example, they can measure the volume of water utilized in a week or calculate the stockpile of steel or cement materials. By comparing volume measurements at different intervals, construction progress can be accurately evaluated, ensuring efficient resource management. There are numerous other applications where we are actively collaborating with partners. For instance, we are working on chimney cleaning projects and developing tethered drones for large company campuses.
Tethered drones offer extended flight times, up to 34 hours a day with short breaks, and can provide 360-degree surveillance coverage over a range of three and a half kilometres. This makes monitoring large areas easier and responding quickly to incidents or security concerns. We have conducted demonstrations for significant companies, showcasing the effectiveness of combining small surveillance drones with larger drones that can swiftly reach specific areas of interest. This enables zooming in on details and capturing critical information for later analysis. We are also involved in projects related to cross-country pipeline monitoring, including oil and gas pipelines, as well as various other emerging applications in the market.
Over the next two years, we anticipate a significant increase in drone applications. However, it’s essential to adhere to regulations and guidelines. As an organization, we prioritize compliance and strictly adhere to the principles outlined by regulatory bodies. We obtain necessary approvals from DGCA and respective airport authorities for government projects. Maintaining a commitment to regulatory compliance ensures drones’ safe and responsible use while exploring their full potential in various industries.