Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which can be expanded to include electronic warfare, mining, logistics, salvage etc. However, there is a misconception that drones are mere instruments of destruction. In fact, drones have a great potential for civilian applications. Drones are now being used for the purpose of surveillance. In case of very large gatherings, rallies and protests, it is extremely difficult to keep an overview, and here the micro drones come into play, by allowing any such situation to be viewed from a high and a vantage point.
Netra, a UAV, developed by the DRDO and a Mumbai-based private firm Ideaforge, is lightweight and autonomous, with a high resolution camera with zooming facilities and thus can be used for wider surveillance. Netra can identify human activity up to 500 m away and even send live video feed of objects till 5 km away through local wireless network to laptops.
Various applications of drones
India too has joined in the use of drones for the purpose of surveillance; to monitor large gatherings and events, where the law enforcement officials find it difficult to gain access and keep control, because of the sheer number of people participating in it. The demand for the use of drones is gathering momentum, with several Central and State armed police forces procuring it, and more police units showing interest. Apart from surveillance, drones are also used in hostage situations, border infiltration monitoring, law enforcement operations, search and rescue operations, disaster management, aerial photography and anti-Naxal operations.
Netra UAVs were deployed in Uttarakhand during the 2013 floods, to locate stranded survivors with precision. Be it a political rally in Chandigarh or the Jagannath Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad, or a riot in Saharanpur in UP, the drone has been utilised to monitor an ongoing situation and take necessary action where required.
Pitfalls of unregulated use of drones
Technology is like a double-edged sword. Along with benefits, there come many disadvantages too. Till October 2014, a variety of drones were available in the open market. They performed functions like taking photographs or streaming live videos, but there are no rules or regulations to ensure their use for legitimate purposes. Use of drones does raise significant issues for privacy and civil liberties. Some of the many pitfalls of unregulated use of UAVs are:
- No formal training is required to use a drone and any one over the age of 18 could purchase one. The first issue is of the UAV spinning out of control and crashing into human habitat. Ninety per cent of the Indian airspace is civilian and restricting the UAV to military airspace is not feasible.
- The airspace over cities in India has high density of manned aircraft traffic. Lack of operating procedures and uncertainty of the technology may result in the UAVs causing mid-air collision and accidents.
- UAVs might take in more information over a much longer period of time than a human eye or ear; and it might also find its way to areas where other aerial platforms might not be able to go. In this way they pose potential threat of real privacy risks.
- According to Air Marshal (Retd) Denzil Keelor, “Anything, any object that can be put into the sky and has the ability to carry a camera or a payload is a potential spying device.”
- They can also carry wi-fi crackers and fake cell phone towers that can determine your location or intercept your texts and phone calls.
- UAVs can also be made to carry “less lethal” weapons such as rubber bullets.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) admits it has no rules and regulations in place for controlling the manufacture, sale, purchase and most importantly, the flight, of drones. “We do not have any regulations in place or guidelines to adhere to for people who want to fly drones or UAVs as a hobby,” said Charan Das, the deputy director, DGCA (Airworthiness). However, keeping in mind the various misuses of drones without proper regulations laid out, on the October 7, 2014, the office of the DGCA issued a notice prohibiting the use of UAVs by civilians. The notice read as follows:
“The civil operation of UAVs will require approval from the Air Navigation Service provider, Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs, and other concerned security agencies, besides the DGCA.”
“The DGCA is in the process of formulating the regulations (and globally harmonize those) for certification and operation for use of UAVs in the Indian civil airspace. Till such regulations are issued, no non-Government agency, organization, or an individual will launch a UAV in Indian civil airspace for any purpose whatsoever.”
Technology, if put to the right use is surely a boon. But technology in the wrong hands can also be a curse. Drones have indeed the potential to save lives, protect the interests of the nation, environment, wildlife etc. The Government of India needs to lay out the regulations at the earliest, so that the drones can be put to their optimum usage, both by the Government and the private sector.
It’s time for a better tomorrow.