A couple of days ago, FactorDaily published a story about a professor of IISc who is piloting a seed-bombing project using drones in Karnataka’s Kolar district to convert fallow areas into forests.
And now we have a farmer from Haryana who has customised drones that can spray pesticides on crops from the sky. The drone can carry a 35-kg load, eliminating the need for farmers and farm-hands to carry pesticides in containers on theirs backs and spray it by hand, exposing themselves to the harsh and often poisonous chemicals. The drone idea belongs to Ashwani Sihag of Phullan village in Fatehabad district of Haryana. The 34-year-old, who holds an MSc in Information Technology, felt he needed to do something after a farmer acquaintance of his died after inhaling pesticides.
Sihag’s drone has two variants: a manually operated version and an automatically operated version. The first model is controlled by remote. The drone is visible up to 2 km to the naked eye, thereafter seen only on a TV monitor screen.
The 34-year-old, who holds an MSc in Information Technology, felt he needed to do something after a farmer acquaintance of his died after inhaling pesticides.
The second, a ‘mission planner’ model, is designed for the Indian Army. It can take off automatically, uses GPS for navigation and can be operated using a desktop or laptop.
Sihag, whose father is a retired IT expert of the Indian Air Force, owns about 40 acres of farmland in Phullan. He says he learned how to operate drones from YouTube videos. “If drones can be used to deliver pizzas, why not use them to deliver pesticides!” he says.
He hasn’t given his souped-up drone a name so far. It can fly up to the height of 8 km, race at a speed of 60 km per hour for up to 30 km during a single sortie. “I imported equipment from China and USA. I spent over Rs 5 lakh getting the parts. Then, at the beginning of this year, I was ready to go,” says Sihag with a smile. He claims to have developed the communication system of the drone on his own and also the frame, which is 1 meter long. It took Sihag a year to come up with a first prototype, but that could only be used to sprinkle water on vegetable crops with the help of a remote control.
He finally developed a working model that could spray pesticide, a low cost model that will cost around Rs 1-1.5 lakh, making it affordable for big farmers.
It took Sihag a year to come up with a first prototype, but that could only be used to sprinkle water on vegetable crops with the help of a remote control.
Once he demonstrated his drone’s capabilities to the farmers of his village, he became an instant sensation in Phullan and neighbouring villages. Farmers started flocking to his farm to witness his drone take to the air and do its work.
“There are many farmers I know who have complained of uneasiness, dizziness and other health complications brought on by spraying pesticides. The cloth mask doesn’t help,” says Sihag.
“How much ever we cover our heads and faces, there is no foolproof method to avoid inhaling the poisonous pesticide,” says Dalip Singh, a farmer from Phullan. “It can lead to medical emergencies, forcing us to take the pesticide-hit to a hospital.”
Another farmer, Rajesh Kumar, says he had to be hospitalised of pesticide-poisoning because he was spraying it the “old way”. Now, he intends to do it with Sihag’s drone.
Sihag says he has received several queries from farmers asking about the cost of the drone. A few have placed orders for the drone as well.
“The price may sound high but given the problems they face, it’s a good investment. It saves them from health complications. They are ready to get one made for them,” says Sihag.
Another farmer, Rajesh Kumar, says he had to be hospitalised of pesticide-poisoning because he was spraying it the “old way”.
“I’m so very happy with the response, I’m now working on a hybrid model that can be operated from my bedroom, without having me to go to the field,” says Sihag with a big grin.
Utility for army
This is not the first drone Sihag has made. He had earlier sent a prototype to the Indian Army. He says he knows the problems the Army faces, especially when it comes to sending rations or medical kits to remote locations.
He says his drone can race to places affected by landslides or natural calamities and deliver emergency material required for people trapped at such locations. The Army is yet to respond.
(Sat Singh is a Rohtak based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. With inputs from Amit Kumar, a Haryana based journalist.)
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Lead image: Angela Anthony Pereira. Used for representational purposes only. Updated at 12.45pm on June 15, 2017, to update the lead image. Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.