Eyes in the Sky

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Eyes in the Sky

Drone technology, widely being used in different parts of the world, offers a range of benefits to a developing country such as Nepal.

In 2014, a tuberculosis (TB) epidemic plagued Papua New 4 parts of the country, considering they were surrounded by dense jungles and affected by poor road connectivity. Supply of medicine to the affected areas was a pressing concern as the disease spreads from person-to-person through air and water. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), an international humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation, used drones to deliver vaccines and medicines to the rural parts of the country. The organisation also transported blood samples of patients to the laboratory through drones. The technology was a blessing for the nation and aided them in their fight against TB. 

After the first daring take-off of the airplane developed by the Wright brothers in 1903, technological advancements achieved by mankind in the last 115 years have changed the lives of people to a great extent. Over the last 15 years, drones or unmanned ariel vehicles (UAVs) have stayed at the forefront of the changes in ariel technologies. From military combats and surveillances to a wide range of civilian/commercial activities, there are extensive applications of drone technologies at present. Drones are being used in activities such as disaster response, emergency services, environmental monitoring, delivery of products, farming, geographical surveys, cinematography/videography and financial evaluations of property, among many others. Meanwhile, drones have found a special place among fun lovers and adventure seekers to capture photos and videos of their activities. 

What is Drone Technology?
Basically, drones are small aircraft operated using a remote control or computer. The technology has multiple uses - disaster management, delivery and shipping, inspection and monitoring, surveillance, among others. Drones are equipped with lithium-polymer batteries (Li-Po), while the larger ones also have an engine for smooth operation. Some powerful drones can lift 20-kgs and fly for as long as half an hour. 

Global Context
Many businesses in the world have already adopted drone technology. E-commerce companies like Amazon, Alibaba, DHL, among others have adopted the technology for the delivery of products to its consumers. 

In developed countries, drones are used in the agricultural sector to spray chemicals and fertilisers in the cultivated field. They can also inspect areas inaccessible to humans. In 2018, the Scottish police used drones to search for missing people, track criminals and survey traffic incidents. Globally, drones are also used as a disaster management tool as it can reach danger zones without the need to send human support through parachutes and helicopters. 

According to Goldman Sachs — an American multinational investment bank and financial services company — global militaries will spend USD 70 billion on drone technologies by 2020, which will help replace human pilots. The research also states the United States alone will spend USD 17.5 billion on drones from 2017 to 2021. “There is nothing a drone cannot do. It can be used for seeding, precise fertilisation, irrigation, harvesting, pollination, diagnosing diseases, assessment of crop health, soil health detection, detection of plant height, plant counting, yield estimation, forewarning etc,” an article published in the blog of the Committee of World Food Security (WFS) reads. Further, drones are used in the entertainment and film industry as it reduces the cost of getting better-quality aerial footage.

Commercial Drone Services in Nepal
Eying the opportunities, some companies have already started commercial drone services in Nepal. DroNepal Pvt Ltd is one such firm providing services related to land survey. According to the company’s CEO and co-founder Darpan Pudasaini, Nepal can take more advantage of the technology than the developed countries. Pudasaini states Nepal lacks proper geospatial data, and the available data does not help the country in the development process. “Nepal is a disaster-prone country; its landscape is constantly changing. So, we need to have data to take proper data-driven development decisions,” he says, adding that the drone technology can solve all these data problems.

“The country is regularly hit by natural disasters like floods and landslides. The technology is a must because it is very difficult to deliver relief materials to rural parts of Nepal via difficult road connectivity,” he shares. Pudasaini’s company has been working with Gokarneshwor Municipality, Biratnagar Municipality and a municipality in Syangja to provide 2D and 3D maps of the areas.

As Nepal is an agricultural country, the government can also encourage people to use the technology in the sector, as it can inspect the field and find the root of the pest problems. As the technology is relatively cheaper, easy to use, Nepal can use the technology to map unexplored areas. 

According to Sambhu Siwakoti, managing director at Madhukaa Drone Services, if used properly drone technology can revolutionise Nepal’s agricultural sector. His company has been proving a range of commercial drone services including survey and mapping, cinematography, logistics support, agricultural monitoring, rescue and emergency and infrastructure inspections. 

“Drones can be used in the large areas of Terai, where it is difficult for the workers to seed and inspect the agricultural lands,” he says, adding the technology also reduces time consumption and human effort. He further adds Nepal’s development is synonymous with the development of the agriculture sector, as a large section of the population is still engaged in the sector. “The technology helps to track the defective area even in the larger fields, which will help reduce the risk of crop damage and losses. As a result, the farmers will also get an extra profit,” he opines.

Nepal has many heritage sites and conservation areas. Pudasiani believes that drone technology helps to inspect the conservative areas, which are home to endangered animals. “The technology helps protect the area, detect smugglers, and check the situation of the animals,” Pudasaini says, adding the government can also use drones for aerial surveillance of major cities of the country. “In Nepal, engineers and designers are actively contributing to the development sector; however, they are using decades-old technology, from the collection of data to its processing. So, the latest data produced by the drone technology can be a bridge for development for countries like Nepal,” Pudasaini says, suggesting the government to focus on drone technology, which can benefit many sectors. As the country has many geographically complex areas, which are famous tourist destinations, Siwakoti believes that drones can deliver essential goods and medical supplies to those areas where it is difficult for the vehicles to reach on time.

“Drones can even be used for small and fragmented land and difficult geographical conditions and topography like in Nepal,” the WFS article reads.

Meanwhile, Mahabir Pun, founder of the National Innovation Centre, is working to supply essential medical supplies to hospitals. His team has designed two drones - an octocopter and a fixed-wing drone.

Rules and Regulations
Nepal had no regulations on drones until 2015. During the earthquake in 2015, many organisations used the technology for aerial images and videos of the affected areas and heritage sites. There was excessive use of the technology in the country. Therefore, the government had to ban the operation of drones functioning without permission from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN). In 2015, the government introduced the regulation for operating drones in Nepal.

The operators also need to seek permission from the Home Ministry, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, and local bodies operating drones in Nepal. Meanwhile, the government has set up ‘No-fly zones’ in various parts of the country, where drones are prohibited.

Under the regulation set up by the government, drones are allowed to fly at a maximum altitude of 400 ft, and a horizontal distance of 500 metres. Meanwhile, one can safely use drones if they weigh 2-kgs and operate below 200 metres on personal property. 

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