COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt. Due to the highly infectious nature of the disease, the only way to stop it’s spread now is to self-isolate. However, while we may have the privilege to work from home, sanitation workers, doctors, and delivery executives are still out trying to make our lives easier. Although a robotic substitute for doctors seems like a dream now, there is definitely an alternative for sanitation workers, believes Chennai-based engineer-entrepreneur Agnishwar Jayaprakash whose startup is using about 330 drones to sanitise hotspots in the city by spraying disinfectants!
Using Drones in the Fight Against COVID-19
Agnishwar is the President of a drone startup, Garuda Aerospace which he founded in 2015. His drones are currently working to disinfect the premises of the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital and the Kilpauk Medical College (KMC) in Chennai. The drones sanitise the premises every four hours between 6 AM to 6 PM with each covering a linear distance of 20 KM.
“Today, the most important job is to contain the epidemic. Through our activities, we are not only efficiently trying to disinfect the infection hotspots, but also trying to limit the exposure of the sanitation workers because we possess the technology to execute it,” explains 29-year-old Agnishwar.
How Did the Disinfection Process Start?
Vimal Raj Venkatesar, the CEO of the startup and an Aeronautical Engineer, says that since they had already been working with the state government previously on other projects, Garuda Aerospace approached them directly.
“Once we discussed the idea with them last Monday, the same day we tested the feasibility of our proposal. We tested it on the premises of the Directorate of Medical Sciences (DMS) where the Minister for Health and Family Welfare Department, Dr C Vijaya Baskar, was also present,” says Vimal.
The next day they got the approval to spray at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital followed by KMC on Thursday. Next in line are the premises of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB).
“The employees at TNEB are out of their homes doing their duty. To minimise their exposure, we are going to spray the parking lot and the common assembly areas within the premises as well,” says Vimal.
Out of the 330 drones that have been deployed, 300 of these have a capacity of 10 litres while the other 30 carry one litre of disinfectants like Lizol and Sodium Hypochlorite.
Vimal explains that they would not have been able to carry out their operations without help from volunteers in the technical field.
“All of the 330 drones do not belong to us. Most of these drones have been aggregated from others. We are paying them for the use and also ensuring that their drones are in safe hands. We also have 450 volunteer pilots who are manually operating these drones,” explains Vimal. He also mentions that they want to scale the project in 30 big government hospitals in the state and all across Tamil Nadu.
Other Projects and Rising Demand Across Borders
As Vimal mentioned earlier, this is not the first time that the startup has worked with the government. In 2015, they started working with the Forest Department to tackle the conflict between elephants and people living in settlements close to the forested areas.
“We realised that elephants were scared of bees and lions. So, our drones were used to detect any kind of elephant movement and we attached a system on the drones that could imitate the sounds of bees and lions as loud as 130 decibels. This was very helpful in managing the man-animal conflict in the region,” he explains.
Additionally, they have also worked in the field of agriculture again under the government, where drones have been used to spray fertilisers on the crops. These are just a few of the many projects they have worked on.
In relation to their COVID19 disinfection project, the demand for their services has come from far and wide. Vimal mentions that the governments of Chhattisgarh, Kerala, UP, and Assam have gotten in touch with them.
In fact, they even have a finalised deal in place with Chhattisgarh but because of the lockdown and border restrictions, they haven’t been able to make their innovations accessible.
Agnishwar also mentions that an investment bank from Europe has gotten in touch with them and wants to start operations in four to six weeks.
“They want us to supply about 2500 drones out of which about 1000 are only for operations in Spain as the spread of infection in the country is still increasing,” he mentions.
So, what do they want to achieve or improve upon in the near future?
Agnishwar informs that they are working on drone-based delivery in case of essentials like medicines and food. He also adds that a food delivery service provider has currently reached out to them and they are working out a deal.
“Going forward, we also want to automate the process of operating the drones. We are currently being able to spray effectively by informing the staff earlier and because spaces are anyway empty. By automating this process, we’ll be able to sterilise the spaces in the night when people are asleep,” he says signing off.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)