The COVID-19 outbreak is making us all re-think about the ways we usually function. As individuals, most of us love to interact and meet people but the COVID-19 pandemic is making us consider the benefits of ‘social distancing.’
In the wake of the current situation where the virus spreads mainly through touch, staying physically distant from each other is the way out, maybe the only one right now, in the absence of any vaccine.
In the fear of the spread of the virus, human intervention even in necessary activities like delivery of essential items to our doorstep needs to be put under scrutiny and analysis. The problem becomes severe because a patient of COVID-19 remains unaware of the disease for a long time. By the time the virus gets detected, the delivery person may have picked up several packages and delivered to many. All those who came in contact with him and the surfaces he touched in the process face the risk of contracting the disease.
What’s worse is that the delivery person is also prone to health risks as he visits so many places and comes into contact with numerous people while delivering goods.
How are drones helping out businesses deliver essential commodities?
Contactless delivery, in countries like Canada and USA appear to be booming and drones are playing a vital role in ensuring businesses and customers interact as little as possible.
Drones are taking to the skies in unprecedented numbers during the pandemic to deliver essential goods and medicines to communities under lockdown. At the heart of the boom is location technology, the crucial element of autonomous flight.
In Canada, a number of First Nations communities that are isolated and cut off from the rest of the world are banking on drones to provide them with vital supplies. And it’s a model that’s being replicated around the world, from the Australian outback to rural outposts in Ireland.
In the United States, pharmaceutical giants in CVS and UPS are joining forces to use drones to deliver prescriptions to residents of a Florida retirement community and Alphabet’s drone delivery company Wing reports a “significant” increase in demand in recent weeks. Its drones are being used by FedEx to deliver to self-isolators during COVID-19.
When can we expect to see food delivery companies using drones in India?
Close to a year and a half has past since civil aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DCGA) announced that flying drones, also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, for personal and commercial purposes won’t be illegal in India. The regulatory body, back then, also announced an online platform named Digital Sky, to regulate all drones flying over an altitude of 50 feet and higher categories.
In January 2019, a whitepaper on drone policy 2.0 was presented by the minister for civil aviation which paved the way for wider application of drones such as delivery of goods beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). This was hailed as a major turning point for the drone market in India. Yet, it is still not clear as to when we are going to see the likes of Zomato, Swiggy and Dunzo use drones on a larger scale to deliver food.
So what’s the hold up? Well, after a circular rolled out by the DGCA in May 2019 which invited companies to participate in a testing environment for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) and test out their drones, the regulator asked the seven shortlisted companies back then — Zomato, Swiggy,Tata Advanced Systems, Honeywell, Zipline, Dunzo and Redwing to provide additional technical details regarding their BVLOS application.
The testing phase conducting drone experiments is intended to last at least six months, and is likely to be followed by several rounds of consultations. This phase has finally gotten underway now with a total of 13 companies being handed an approval — a list which also includes Spicejet and Reliance-backed Asteria Aerospace.
“We have been working on powering delivery via drones for some time now and welcome this move from DGCA to test our systems. We are excited to build the future of aerial food delivery in India,” said a Zomato Spokesperson speaking to Business Insider recently.
What about the rules that govern the use of drones for deliveries?
Clearing the air around the delivery of orders through drones, the ministry of civil aviation published the draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020 just a few days back.
These rules propose setting up of drone ports which are going to be similar to airports. For using these ports, drone operators will have to take necessary permissions for the arrival, departure, surface movement and associated maintenance or commercial activities of drones. Interestingly, government drone operators don’t need any approval from DGCA for using the ports.
It also proposes establishing corridors in “permitted areas if warranted by nature and requirements”. The ministry has allowed the drone operators to capture images in permissible areas while ensuring that there is no breach of privacy of individuals or their property.
As of now, the government is inviting feedback from the industry and various stakeholders. They can send their comments to the ministry within 30 days after which the rules will be finalised. The DGCA, meanwhile, is expected to come up with an Unmanned Aircraft Traffic Management System, which will work towards the prevention of drone collision.