The COVID-19 had only begun to clutch the world with its pernicious roots and India was yet to receive a severe blow. But Sagar Naugriya and Prashant Pillai – along with their team – already started working on modifying an existing drone that had the potential to be utterly useful to combat the spread of the pandemic in India.
In less than two months from March, Indian Robotics Solution (IRS) have managed to develop three different products – two drones and a thermal headgear – that have the potential to ease the work of enforcement forces in India. Their products have garnered immense interest not only from government authorities but also from the private sector that’s eager to get back to work once the lockdown ends.
Blazing a trail
For Sagar, the love for machines and mechanics started way before he started his university at ITM Gwalior. But it was only once he stepped into his university did he start to realise the scope of robotics. Working his way through college, he joined a robotics firm to learn more about the field and sharpen his skills that would eventually help him set up the Indian Robo Store in 2015 (e-commerce arm of Indian Robotics Solution).
“The quad-copter scene from 3 Idiots inspired me to make my own quadcopter back in school. So I started building and selling whatever I made on platforms like OLX and Snapdeal,” says Sagar.
After finishing his course, his career started off with an R&D job at power solutions provider SuKam. It is here where he met Prashant Pillai who would then eventually join him as a co-founder at IRS. With IRS, the duo aimed at delivering robotics solutions to whoever wanted to make use of their services. Eventually, when the drone scene picked up in India, IRS got into not just making drones, but also fixing them for other drone pilots.
Over the course of the last few years, the startup has worked with multiple clients that span across both the government and private sectors. Some of the more prominent clients of the startups have been the Sterlite Power, the Indian Army, NDMC, GK Minda, and the UP Irrigation Department to name a few.
Being a startup passionate about robotics and mechanics, IRS has delved into multiple projects over the years and haven’t limited themselves to any particular sub-segment. These are just some of the various projects that the startup has picked up and delivered over the years: heavy payload drones, GPS trackers, all-terrain vehicle for the army with an arm for bomb detection, and AC duct inspection robots.
Including Prashant and Sagar, there are only about a dozen people that have been responsible behind all the projects that have been put out by the startup. But Sagar says that they also have incredible support from their work-related community who are passionate about the work they’re doing.
Battling COVID-19 with drones and headgears
“It all started with a conversation that we were having on the agriculture drone that we’d been making,” says Prashant.
The team had already been making a pesticide-spraying drone for farmers, when they heard about China’s efforts to battle the coronavirus in Wuhan. This was in the month of February when the pandemic was only sowing its seeds around the globe. That is when it struck the duo that their existing agricultural drone could be modified to be used for sanitization purposes.
“We modified the drone’s hardware and software and attached a 10-litre tank to it. Within a matter of 5 days, we had our sanitizing drone ready,” says Sagar, nonchalantly. This was only one of the three products that they’d develop in two months to help authorities combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once the Corona Combat Drone (CCD) was ready, Prashant reached out to various entities and organizations and then eventually ended up working with NDMC (North Delhi Municipal Corporation) to sanitise around 125 km of inaccessible area, comprising of 37 remote locations that housed more than 1.7 million people, in a matter of 13 days.
The team soon realised that thermal screening was another important measure that could help authorities effectively monitor the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. And so the team started working on their next project: Thermal Corona Combat Drone (TCCD) – aka the “Penta-Utility Drone”.
While their first product was solely focussed on sanitizing, they put themselves in the shoes of enforcement personnel while making their second drone. The first addition was that of a military-grade thermal camera that would help identify potentially infected people from a safe distance. To make sure that the personnel could then have a conversation with these potential patients, they also added a loudspeaker to the drone.
Taking the thought ahead, they then added a small “COVID-19 medicine kit” that could be delivered to people in need, without ever getting in direct contact with them. Lastly, to make sure that this activity could be conducted at night too, they added a spotlight. With all these different utilities working together, the drone roughly has a flight time of about 15 minutes.
With a fully functioning drone, the team claims that they’d be able to screen over 500 individuals in about 3 hours of flight time.
“We’ve shown a proof of concept to various authorities in Delhi and we’re now working on perfecting the product,” says Prashant.
Although drones are an effective solution in certain circumstances, there are a few limitations when it comes to the usage of drones. Drones are not only expensive to manufacture but they also face regulations and require experienced pilots to fly. Hence, the team started working on their third product – the Thermal Screening Headgear (TSH).
The TSH is a solution that’s devised not only keeping the current situation in mind but also what’s going to ensue from the end of the lockdown. The end of the lockdown won’t signify the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s a sticky thought that’s going to linger for a while until a vaccine is mass-manufactured. This calls for the need for protective measures that can keep public places and offices safe from being a source of further contamination.
While thermal guns had been in use prior, they still require two individuals to be in close contact which increases the chance of infection. Hence, the team developed a thermal screening headgear that could scan a bunch of individuals from a safe distance of up to 10 metres. The device consists of a thermal camera placed on a helmet that transmits a live feed to a smartphone-powered augmented reality headset.
TSH has already been demoed by the Delhi Police and the authorities have shown keen interest in the product. Not only that, but Sagar says that they’ve garnered a lot of interest even from the private sector who could benefit from the usage of a tool that could help them prevent the spread of the morbidity at workplaces.
The road ahead
Indian Robotics Solution is a boot-strapped startup and hasn’t received any external funding to date. This also means that the three devices they came up with – to help India combat the pandemic – have been self-funded. But that hasn’t stopped them from spending further on improving these prototypes. Sagar says they are already working on integrating an AI-based face recognition system into their CCD and a second, more advanced version, of the TSH is also underway.
While the country has been grappling with the spread of the pandemic, startups like the IRS are braving all odds to help the country face an unprecedented situation with some ingenious use of the technology we already have at our disposal. And if you’re really feeling the need to go “vocal for local”, its startups like the IRS that we really need to push into the limelight as a token of respect for the work they’ve been doing.
IRS is currently looking for funding as they look forward to continuing their work on robotics solutions in the future.
With inputs from Sagar Naugriya and Prashant Pillai
Cover Image Credits: Bhavya Poonia | Mashable India