A city-based startup has hit upon an innovative solution to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus by employing drones to disinfect hospitals and other public places. This comes as big relief to doctors, nurses, policemen, sanitation workers and others who are on the frontline as the country battles against the virus outbreak.
The Tamil Nadu government had on March 23 sent out drones of the startup Garuda aerospace to spray disinfectant around the area in and around Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital. The pilot project for the Hospital was conducted under the aegis of state health minister Dr Vijay Bhasker and health secretary Dr Beela Rajesh.
The startup has 300 drones and 500 pilots to operate the UAVs to disinfect hospitals and public spaces in the state. Each drone can carry payloads between 15-20 litres of disinfectants provided by the health department.
Their drone lifts off from the ground operated by a remote operator who navigates the UAV, whose arms are loaded with disinfectant that are sprayed at the targeted area without coming into contact with it.
"We felt, of course, social distancing and isolation is one way of tackling it. To ensure that the virus is not spread we need to use drones to sanitise and disinfect the area and not human beings because of the highly contagious nature of the infection," founder of the start-up, Agnishwar Jayaprakash said.
According to Agnishwar Jayaprakash, Garuda Aerospace the company had been in operation for four and a half years and specialises in catering to diverse needs such as agricultural survey, reconnaissance and surveillance.
"Using drones ensures to a certain extent the health and safety of workers. Also drones will be able to cover at least around 20 kilometres in a day as opposed to a human operator who has to struggle to do the same, especially in this hot weather. That's why we started to pitch to the government," Mr Jayaprakash said.
After they successfully offered their services to several private and government hospitals, the start-up is now getting requests from other states too, including Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.
"Chhattisgarh gave us a work order to spray 180 square kilometers but initially they wanted us to do it in more than 700 acres," he said.
"In all, we are being contacted by seven or eight states to deliver the same sort of service in public areas more so in the government hospitals and in government buildings," he said.
Mr Jayaprakash said they have their own manufacturing facility in their company based in Chennai.
"The only issue now is we are not able to get to the place of operation fast enough because of the ongoing lockdown," Mr Jayaprakash said.
"We cannot replace doctors. Doctors cannot be replaced by a machine. At least, this spraying thing can be replaced." The company also has plans to scale-up.
"In fact, there has been a funding agency that has been speaking to us....investment bank from Europe. What they want is 1000 drones for Spain. They want us to manufacture, deliver and operate drones," he said.
"This is a classic Make in India story," he said.
"I said I don't have 1000 drones. But if you want us to make, you will have to fund us," he said.
Asked about the logistical challenges during the current country-wide lockdown, he said, "For example, to get to Chhattisgarh, we need to go through several states. All of them need to give us permission. Sometimes, that does not happen."
Talking about the origins of the company, Mr Jayaprakash said, "In 2016, the CEO of NITI Aayog, Amitabh Kant had heralded our innovation. He said it will revolutionize the agricultural sector because we are using drones in precision agriculture, using them spray fertilizers, insecticides and such. We were doing a lot of work in the agriculture field when this coronavirus hit."
The company also provides solutions to man animal conflict taking place in the villages near forests in the country.