UAV ( Unmanned Aerial Vehicle ) commonly known as a drone is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. An UAV is defined as a “powered ,aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator ,uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift , can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable and can carry a lethal or non lethal payload. Does this technical definition make the concept sound as an idea of future or research focus of Japan or USA? Well! Within Chrompet of Chennai, unknown to a lot , occurs an international level research in UAV technology at one compact floor in Madras Institute of Technology’s(MIT’s) Admin block. It has been two decades since the quest began and so far ,there has been no looking back.
YESTERDAY WAS HISTORY
“Excellence is a continuous process and not an accident” said Dr .APJ.Addul Kalam, pretty earlier than naming the prodigy of his knowledge house, MIT as Team Dhaksha . He started as a humble and hungry student in MIT ,became a faculty member of the institution and went to achieve glory as a research scientist in ISRO and then the president of the nation. Today, he serves as an incessant inspiration to young minds of the nation. It is his dreams and vision that MIT’s team Dhaksha shoulders . The team was formerly referred to as CASR – Center for Aerospace Research , established with an aim of achieving self reliance and significance in UAV technology. CASR has been credited with initiating the first student developed satellite of the country which was also the first to be designed outside the premises of ISRO. The team declined a million dollar offer proposed by the US government following their participation in DARPA 2012 .DARPA – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. Dr.Senthil Kumar , Director of CASR and more importantly a devoted student of Dr .Kalam, paid no heed to the dollars but to his Guru’s profound words, “ You went to the United States to prove yourself,not to sell yourself.Come back! The nation is waiting!”
Dr.Kalam ,a man of his promises called in on MIT to inspect the UAV .Dr.Vasantharaj, Research Scientist at CASR recalled how enthusiastic Dr.Kalam was to learn about the workings of the system that when the UAV landed,he had rushed to it to analyze any system changes besides ensuring whether the device was user – friendly.
Following the inspection, a smaller version of the UAV was procurred by the DRDO. It was then that Dr.Kalam named the team as Dhaksha .Dhaksha means an air warrior,he had said ,filled with awe for MIT’ s warriors who invested their brains and sweat in developing such sophisticated systems.Overwhelmed by joy ,Dr.Kalam shared a poem that he had conceived after witnessing the MultiRotor UAV fly and complete its mission flawlessly. Dr.VasanthaRaj displayed a video of this stimulative moment remarking that this was the team ‘s energy booster.
The poem ends on a note of ambition which goes:
“I was born with a quest for research
I was born to fly high amid the clouds
I shall never crawl in the ground
The vast blue sky is my goal
Up there,I will keep flying ,all my life!”
When the CWRD laid a challenging proposal before Team Dhaksha with requirements of UAVs capable of hovering at an altitude of 100 meter ,24 × 7 serving as a fundamental surveillance system for the Border Security Force ( BSF) ,the team resolved the demanding situation by developing tethered UAVs which were capable of handling camera payload with endurance of 6 hours at a maximum of 100 m height. The tethered drone with sensor payload served the purpose of surveillance during day and night. The UAV was tethered to a ground station located on a predefined area which provided the power source. Thirty minutes of a recharge break powered up the device to serve its endurance limit.
DURING THE DISASTERS
Dhaksha has played an active part in various disaster rescue operations in the country starting from The Himalayan Tsunami At Uttarkhand during 2013 to the very recent Gaja Cyclone.
During the Chennai Floods in 2015,Team Dhaksha extended its timely help to the rescue team , providing aerial perspectives which offered information on victim location and the path to reach them besides enabling delivery of necessities such as food and medicines to the stranded people.
Swarm UAV s ,the currently developing research project of Dhaksha emphasises on flying 50 UAVs in a coordinated way like a flock of birds which can prove tremendously useful in establishing network infrastructure at the time of disasters with individual network components being held by the hovered UAVs .The flock will hence act as a tower .This project is a vital part of Dhaksha’s participation in DRDO’s national level competition – DRUSE : DRDO Robotics and Unmanned Systems Exposition.
Team Dhaksha during rescue operations at the time of Chennai Floods
Last year ,the team gathered limelight with its participation in the UAV Medical Express Challenge 2018
UAV MEDICAL EXPRESS CHALLENGE 2018
With the UAV challenge 2018,the team aimed at exhibiting their proficiency in international level, competing with world class standards and thereby enhancing the features of their prototype.Team Dhaksha established a world record in Phase 2 of the competition achieving continuous flight for 6 hours 7 minutes and 45 seconds.The team scored the highest points in flight segment but secured place 2, missing victory by merely 0.85 points. Monash UAS , a team based from Australia acquired place 1 .
Dhaksha owned apprehensions on why they were marked considerably lesser than Monash UAS in two previous segments but were clear on their goal which wasn’t solely centered on place one.Dr.Vasantharaj , stated how Monash team ‘s breach of rules did not invite negative marking ,expressing his regret over unfair politics prevailing even in international competitions conducted with noble and utilitarian causes.
However ,the victory at Queensland remains glorious for the nation .An incredulous amount of diligence and dedication has fueled the feat.
It is with this competition that their journey with the widely known and celebrated Mr.Ajit Kumar began.
THE STAR’S PART
Mr.Ajit Kumar,known fondly as Thala( “The Leader”) in Tamil Nadu isn’t merely a man of blockbusters but brilliance. As Dr.Senthil Kumar puts it ,he is one of the top aero-modelers of the nation with an exceptional expertise in the field. He was appointed as the team’s Test Pilot and UAV system advisor during the course of the competition. He ,who is a high school drop out, works today with prominent PhD holders in CASR ,elevating the features of the designed prototypes. Dr.Vasantharaj summed their choice of the star in a simple yet striking way,” Intelligence is not dependent on graduation. He is intelligent!”. Auto – pilot accounts as a major difference in the functionality and requirements of an UAV. In UAV ,automation eliminates the need for a pilot but inevitable inputs of a trained and skilled pilot are requisites for tuning the structure. Dr.Vasanth Raj remarked that Mr.Ajit’s reflex as a pilot was splendid and he attributed the same to the star’s early years in Motorsports. Ajit Kumar has implemented thoughtful strategies he had learnt from controlling his bikes in controlling and structuring the UAV.
One notable instance is his instructions to disassemble the machine when the team was convinced that the UAV was ready for deployment. He advocated reassembly for at least three to four times as it will enable them discover intricate individual aspects in which they have erred. Prior racing, the bikes are stripped and the parts are prepped up individually to make the bikes faster. The yesteryear racer has tried the same with the UAV besides providing the team with insights on the right mix of fuel for the system. His practical knowledge, passion and precision propels the team and inspires enthusiastic young minds to experiment in aero-modelling.
UAV s can be used in place of satellites for mapping and prove more advantageous , generating three dimensional maps with a resolution of 3cm while the presently used Google maps own a resolution of 6 meter. Dhaksha has completed a project sourced from Government Of Tamil Nadu centered on aerial mapping of all the rivers in the states , particularly in several flood prone areas to enhance flood preparedness.
Following eminent work in building UAVs used for aerial mapping ,Dhaksha has signed an MoU with ISRO on 14th January 2019. The VC of MIT signed representing the team while the present director-in-chief of ISRO and MIT alumni Dr.Kailasavadivoo Sivan fulfilled the requirements from ISRO’s side .Dr.Vasantharaj explained the prominence of UAV generated maps whose measurable nature enables volumetric analysis at mines, providing alerts regarding violations of specified mining standards in addition to facilitating surveillance, aerial view of mines, mining impact assessment and mine -planning operations support .He asserted that these maps will empower the government with reliable digital data sets aiding in prompt infrastructure planning .
DRONE TAXIS- TALK OF TODAY
Dr.ThamaraiSelvi ,Director of Center of Technology Development and Transfer added a new flavor to the entire session bringing up the concept of Drone taxis ,an escape to the mounting road traffic in the near future. Drone taxis which are known as passenger drones can be manned or unmanned . Various countries are continuing research in this potential area while Dhaksha has commenced it’s attempts in this field with an undeterred determination to lead the nation in development of commutation through drones .
Recently,a prototype of the drone taxi was successfully displayed and demonstrated at the TamilNadu Global Investors Meet.Dr.Thamarai Selvi stated that drone taxis will enter the market by 2025, regulations being rightly scripted in the meanwhile with regards to Air Traffic Management ( ATM). “ Discussions on drone taxis is not free of unease amidst the civilians. Back then, people had baseless and enormous fears prior taking to airplanes. Today, it has become one of the most common forms of transport . We are in that primary phase of dread in terms of drone taxi. As time and technology advances, drone taxis will definitely constitute a part of our routine”, she added with conviction.
AN IDEAL PICNIC
Dr.Senthil Kumar, expressed his dream of witnessing India emerge as a global leader in drone developments. “ Despite enormous militant and civilian applications, there are only a limited number of indigenous UAV systems in the nation, leading to frequent imports from Israel and USA”,he said, adding that this state will alter with their efforts and the increasing awareness about technology.
He stated with pride that this is the only research center in India which is exclusively focused on UAV. The zeal for research should prosper in the country, he said besides expressing his discontentment over the lack of aero-modelling clubs in the nation. An awareness among people on UAVs accounts important and these aspects should at least be encouraged as hobbies ,he affirmed .
He provided an intriguing picture of an ideal picnic – A family packing their bags in the weekend , visiting a nearby aero model club , flying a compact aero model , rejoicing as the machine flies higher , curious of its Dynamics and welcoming advancements in the field.
With dreams bigger, spirits higher and drive unbridled , team Dhaksha moves on and will continue flying higher as Dr. Kalam wished , transporting our awestruck minds to the following words of DaVinci
“ Once you have tasted flight, you will forever
Walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward,
For there you have been, and there
You will always long to return!”