In a corner of the sprawling hall where discussions on electric vehicles were taking place on Monday during an international conference on Short Haul Mobility, stood a majestic white drone, India’s biggest in terms of the load it can carry and the distance it can traverse. The all-electric unmanned vehicle which will have a vertical take-off is now undergoing ground tests with its crucial Cruise Test set to happen in two months.
A special container vehicle in which it was meticulously packaged, transported it carefully for the event from Chennai to Bengaluru in nearly double the usual time taken for travel between the two cities. Incubated at IIT Madras, it has been developed by The ePlane Company, founded by Professor Satya Chakravarthy in 2019.
Senior Aerodynamics Engineer Mukundan Dakshinamoorthy, told The New Indian Express, “This hybrid Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) has a take-off weight of 200 kg including 50 kg of payload. The huge plus point is that it can travel up to 200 km powered by its lithium ion batteries at a speed of 160 km/hr. Drones operational in India presently carry weights ranging between 5 kg and 10 kg and fly a maximum distance of 30 km.” The 3 metre by 3 metre vehicle can land on any flat surface unlike helicopters or flights which require a helipad or a runway.
It is quite a beauty with two thermal cameras attractively positioned in the front of it like eyes to capture images. While the battery would be present in the drone’s body with tiny windows to let in air to keep it cool, the upper half will carry the item to to be transported. Eight set of propellers facilitate the vertical landing while four sets of forward propellers will enable it to cruise through the air.
“Our drone has generated enormous interest since morning. We had representatives from courier concern DHL, the ONGC as well as army and navy personnel gather details about it as could prove very useful for them. Presently, drones are used elaborately in agriculture. The ONGC can use it to detect minute gas leaks in its huge pipeline network while the navy would find it very useful for surveillance activities. It is done with helicopter presently which is expensive due to high fuel costs,” Dakshinamoorthy explained.
Vishnu Ramakrishnan, a staffer at the concern said the lithium batteries imported from Korea had a capacity of 9KW per hour. Elaborating on the safety features, he said, “A trained Drone pilot programmes it for precision landing by mapping out the path it has to travel using a QR code.”
Two teams, one at the starting point and one at the destination are available. The concern is working on its ambitious electric plane, e200, which can transport a human being on board but with a pilot steering it.