August witnessed heavy rainfall in the Kodagu district of Karnataka, as well as Kerala
Although Kerala suffered loss of over 300 lives, the situation in Karnataka was equally sombre
A Mumbai-based company that works with DRDO coordinated surveillance efforts with its indigenous drones
As the state of Kerala is observing its popular festival of Onam, the restrained celebration is a testament to the recent deluge witnessed by the state over the past week. Rehabilitation, rather than celebration, seems to be top priority of the people of Kerala. After a heartbreaking loss of over 300 lives, the state has come to a halt. But while, most of the world’s attention has been targeted at Kerala, the situation was equally grave in the neighboring state of Karnataka. The district of Kodagu, earlier known as Coorg, has been at the receiving end of heavy rains and resulting floods as well.
The relief operation
The crisis began immediately after Independence Day. On the 17th and 18th August, ideaForge reached out to the Governments of Kerala and Karnataka, respectively. The company had already begun internal efforts on August 16 to prepare for operations when needed.
Since the situation in Kerala was worsening, the machinery was focussing on getting the defense forces active. Immediate need from Kerala was surveillance and supply drops. Typically in such disaster relief missions, surveillance refers to identifying and locating people stranded in inaccessible areas. Similarly, supply drops refer to airdropping medicines, food packets and other critical needs over inaccessible areas. For the mission, the company identified two of its products – Netra Pro and Q series.
Transporting drone batteries is a critical component of the whole operation. Since civil aviation rules do not currently allow transporting drone batteries, the company requested the two governments to allow transporting them through the military sorties that were being carried out from Mumbai.
In order to save time, the team boarded a bus from Mumbai to Bengaluru on Sunday, August 19, along with the batteries needed for the mission. The last leg from Bengaluru to Kodagu was done in a car.
The team reached Kodagu the next day on August 20. The team had received a request from the Kodagu district collector for drone surveillance to identify people stranded in remote places. The company sourced the relevant products, carried out necessary testing procedures and safety checks before embarking on the surveillance and airdrop mission.
Meanwhile, the District Collector in Madikeri needed help with post damage assessment. The team reached Coorg on Monday, and sought permissions to fly. The team did a recce while on standby. After receiving permissions, they carried out their first surveillance and mapping operation on Wednesday, August 22. The Q Series and Netra Pro drones were used for this purpose.
In less than a day, the report was submitted to the District Collector. Currently, the Karnataka State Police Department, Commissioner’s Office, National Highway Authority of India, Tribal Welfare Department and the local PWD are collectively using the images for rebuilding and rehabilitation operations. Over Friday, August 24 and as of writing this report, drones are carrying out operations in the deeper tribal areas to survey and rescue any stranded victims.
According to Ankit Mehta, co-founder of ideaForge, “Being at the forefront of UAV technology, we will do our best to leverage this tech in times of need. For us it is about saving one life or at least helping one family in whatever way to recover from this natural disaster”
There’s more to drones than toying around
ideaForge develops drones that has been used by DRDO for its unmanned aerial vehicle program. It is led by Ankit Mehta alongwith Ashish Bhat and Rahul Singh who are alumnis of IIT Bombay. As students, they were part of the Innovation Cell at IIT Bombay, and took a special interest in foraging broken down bikes and scooters to create a hovercraft. The idea back then was to fly over the Powai lake situated near the IIT Bombay campus. After a couple of failures, and some significant mishaps that included connection cables getting chopped by the propeller, they finally managed to get a working prototype up and running.
Mehta is glad he didn’t cease his efforts there. After the initial disappointments, they got an opportunity to build a data loggers for UAVs from the Department of Aerospace at IIT Bombay. One thing led to the other, and the initial idea of flying over Powai lake gave birth to the company ideaForge, which was created at the Innovation Hub of IIT Bombay. Years later, ideaForge built and handed over the world’s smallest and lightest autopilot to DRDO. After an agreement was signed with the DRDO, ideaForge has worked with DRDO and NDRF for collaborating in rescue efforts during natural calamities. During the 2015 earthquake that rocked Nepal, drones made by the company aided with rescue efforts, relaying critical geographical and infrastructure status reports and information to the rescue team to plan out operations.
Far beyond viral video footage, we’re used to seeing on Facebook and YouTube, this is one novel use of drones that has resulted in saving critical human lives. The relaying of valuable information despite ground level challenges has been invaluable. The company has also mentioned its channel partner Arista Risk and Corporate Solutions in enabling necessary connections with government bodies and law enforcement authorities to seek necessary permissions.