Kolkata: From movies to weddings, and from shots of disaster-affected areas to deliveries, they’re just about everywhere these days. Drones, ‘eyes in the sky’ that were essentially a niche bit of military technology — a novelty when introduced to civilian use a few years back — have become quite ubiquitous these days, used for entertainment to serious rescue operations.
Drones are literally going places where no man had ever gone before. One of their earliest adopters were photographers, forever searching for that elusive never-before-seen angle. Acknowledged as one of the most exciting developments in photo technology in the last few years (a high-flying camera that enables you to capture aerial shots of possibly anything that it sees), drone photography has become the fastest-growing trends in recent years.
The gadget’s emerging demands show that its role is going to become more diverse in the near future, especially after the government legalised its last year, prompting its use in a variety of operations in the city.
The entertainment industry, in fact, was the first to embrace the technology in Kolkata. Ace filmmakers like Srijit Mukherjee and Shibaprasad Mukhopadhyay featured extensive use of drone-shot footage in movies like ‘Chander Pahar’, ‘Amazon Abhijan’, ‘Rajkahini’, ‘Zulfiqar’ and ‘Praktan’.
“The use of drones picked up from 2015,” says Subhen Das, a prominent supplier of drones in Tollywood. “I remember Srijit Mukherjee had first used one in his movie ‘Jaatishwar’ in 2014. But since there were very few operators at that time, there were some technical glitches. Since then, we have seen some marvellous drone-work in several movies. And now, we can’t even imagine a big-budget movie without some drone footage. The demand for drones is increasing with every passing year.”
The other sector where drones have always been in demand is wedding photography, where photographers are ever eager to showcase shots taken from hitherto impossible birds’-eye-view angles and dramatic aerial shots.
“One of the most common demands of nearly every wedding client these days is the heavy use of aerial photography using drones and cranes. Drones are easier to handle and always give an edge above other tools, with their dramatic aerial shots and videos. While their use allows us to capture the entire wedding, along with the activities, they are used even more during pre-wedding photos against attractive backdrops,” says Suvajit Dutt, a city-based wedding photographer.
Another place where you’ll see extensive use of drone photography is magazines and brochures, especially in the travel and real estate sectors. “I have supplied a number of drones to several real estate firms for aerial photography that shows the project site, along with the locales, such as the Maidan or Howrah Bridge in the backdrop,” Das says.
Going a little off script, there’s a company — Hyperxchange, which sells refurbished smartphones and laptops — that has started using drones for delivering products to clients’ rooftops. “It’s a unique concept that we have come across. With a client’s permission, we don’t send delivery men to deliver our products. Instead, we send a drone to their rooftop. It’s unique and customers — mostly in Salt Lake, New Town and Rajarhat — love the concept. Had the drone laws been less stringent, I am sure more and more e-commerce companies would have been interested,” says Dipanjan Purkayastha, the company’s CEO.
Over the years, drones have also become one of the most-used tools of government agencies like Kolkata Police and Kolkata Municipal Corporation. While cops use it in almost every situation where they have to keep an eye on large gatherings, such as Durga Puja, Christmas or year-end celebrations, KMC has used the device on a number of occasions, from tracking dengue-causing larvae to tackling illegal constructions. Drones were even used most recently in a disaster site survey activity, when the unmanned aerial vehicles were used to carry out a basic survey of the crumbling buildings in Bowbazar.
Drones are also becoming popular after every natural or man-made disaster, where they are invaluable in gathering information and navigating through debris. Equipped with high-definition cameras and radar, drones can give rescuers access to a higher field of view without the need for wasting resources on manned helicopters. And, because of their small size, they can provide a close-up view of areas where larger aerial vehicles find it difficult to access. Drones have also been used to assess flood-affected areas in Bengal over the last few years.
With thermal sensors, drones can also quickly discover the location of lost persons, and are particularly useful at night or in challenging terrain. Last year, forest officials had used a drone to track down a tiger that had strayed into human settlements in Midnapore.
Drones are also used in geographic mapping, as they can reach difficult-to-access locations like eroded coastlines or mountaintops and acquire very high-resolution data to create 3D maps.
The latest use of drones has been in agriculture. The reasons include the need to closely monitor crops to improve management and yield, and the need to do this more regularly and cheaply. For example, drones can help spray pesticide and insecticide neatly without risking the lives of farmers.
“On several occasions, we can’t access the dingy lanes and bylanes and also find it difficult to view backyards of locked houses, where accumulated water can often lead to the spread of dengue. In these areas, drones have proved extremely useful,” a senior KMC official says.
There is, however, a set of stringent rules and laws regarding the use of drones, and a lack of knowledge of these can land one in trouble, as Chinese travel blogger Li Zhiwei found out. Zhiwei was flying a drone near the Victoria Memorial in March this year when he was arrested. He is still behind bars.
The use of drones is banned in restricted areas like Victoria Memorial, which falls in this category because of its proximity to Fort William, the Army’s Eastern Command headquarters.
All drones, except those in the nano category (weighing less than 250 grams) must be registered and issued a Unique Identification Number (UIN) by the directorate general of civil aviation. A permit is also required for commercial drone operations (except for those in the nano category flown below 50 feet and those in the micro category flown below 200 feet).
Drone pilots also need to maintain a direct visual sight of the gadget all the while and are not allowed to fly it more than 400 feet vertically.
Drones cannot be flown in areas specified as “no-fly zones”, which include areas near airports, international borders, the secretariat complex in state capitals, strategic locations and military installations.
Also worth noting is that India has specific requirements regarding the types of features a drone must have to be used in the country. These include GPS, return-to-home (RTH), anti-collision light, ID plate, RFID and SIM/No Permission No Take off (NPNT). Before every single flight, drone pilots must seek a permission to fly via a mobile app, which will automatically process the request and grant or reject it. This system is termed as “No Permission, No Takeoff”.

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