How this robotics startup uses AI to power its tethered drones

The startup uses ultra-lightweight, compact power conversion technology to power the drones from the ground from any AC source.

The announcement of ‘Kisan Drones’ in the Union budget 2022 to promote drone technology for crop assessment, digitisation of land records, spraying of insecticides and nutrients, is poised to give a major fillip to drone startups. The finance minister said startups would be encouraged to facilitate ‘Drone Shakti’ through varied applications and Drone-As-A-Service (DrAAS). In addition, the government will start required courses for skilling in select ITIs.

Reacting to the announcement in the budget, Athishay Jain, Co-founder and COO, ISPARGO, said adopting cutting-edge technology will increase farmers’ income. “Using drones in farms is a low-risk proposition, definitely a great move from the government. If drone technology is adopted on a large scale which would increase the demand, the product will get better, and the ecosystem would naturally develop,” he added. 

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Mangaluru-based robotic startup ISPARGO uses drones to apply insecticide on areca nut trees.  Jain said the startup uses ultra-lightweight, compact power conversion technology to power the drones from the ground from any AC source.

AI/ML in drone

AI/ML models are used to develop drones capable of landing on a fixed image or a marker on the ground. The same solution is being extended to follow a moving vehicle. This complex AI/ML model captures the images, processes them, and predicts the next set of navigation points for the drone to follow, all within milliseconds.

ISPARGO, established in 2017, focuses on developing and customising ‘drones for work’. 

Batteries prominently power drones, but they do not last beyond 30 minutes. Any long endurance work using drones will need 15 to 20 sets of batteries which is economically unviable. To upgrade the drone technology, ISPAGRO has developed non-battery powered drones which can work for a whole day with improved efficiency. They are also looking into customising the firmware for specific use cases like painting or pesticide spray to make operations almost autonomous.

The unique proposition of ISPARGO is the tethered drones used for surveillance, plantation crop spray and inspection/monitoring. The salient features of these drones are:

  • OFC based communication and video feed.
  • Single-button launch and land.
  • Video and message encryption
  • Long endurance 
  • AI/ML.

Use cases

For border surveillance/intrusion detection: Tethered drones solution comes with quick and easy deployment; secured data transmission with OFC; no cabling issues; supports 24 hours of uninterrupted video feed; thermal EO/IR, RGB cameras.

For temporary mobile towers: Tethered drone solution supports all-terrain operation; easy plus and fly operation on the go; easily transportable for quick fix deployment; requires minimum resources for installation; can be used for communication and surveillance for intrusion detection.

For agriculture/pesticide spray: Tethered drone solution has one skilled pilot who can cover more trees in a short time; precise spray, low wastage; timely and effective spray increase productivity; onboard camera aids in crop health analysis.

For windmill inspection: Tethered drone solution has quickly deployable precise inspection; no operator insurance and training cost; can fit sophisticated camera for stress/heat analysis.

Challenges

  • Lack of reliable drone components in India, majorly sourced from China. The few manufacturers in India are struggling due to a lack of demand.
  • The open-source drone firmware is generic for categories of drones. Reliability and stability can be achieved by modifying the existing firmware or writing your stack. Unfortunately, there are very few resources available in India to develop drone firmware.
  • Huge R&D costs involve multiple engineering streams (Software, Electronics, Aeronautical). Hence the majority of the companies are focused on developing dashboards and UTM software around drone operations.
  • The government has eased the policies for using drones but hasn’t earmarked a significant amount of capital to promote the ecosystem.

   

  Solutions

  • Focus on building a drone ecosystem; battery tech, motors and firmware are the main thrust areas.
  • Identify the key players in these three thrust areas within India and support them in R&D.

More Great AIM Stories

Poornima Nataraj
Poornima Nataraj has worked in the mainstream media as a journalist for 12 years, she is always eager to learn anything new and evolving. Witnessing a revolution in the world of Analytics, she thinks she is in the right place at the right time.

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