New Delhi: Come December, flying nano drones under 250g and up to a height of 50 feet won’t land you in trouble with the authorities as long as they are operated within sight and in enclosed premises. However, users will have to register drones that weigh 250g and above, and fly over a height of 50 feet, with Digital Sky.

Digital Sky is an online platform, aimed at helping the civil aviation regulator—Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)—to regulate all drones in the micro (above 250g) and higher categories, and those that fly over an altitude of 50 feet.

Digital Sky allows drone users to register their drones, get a pilot licence followed by a UAOP (an unmanned aircraft operator permit) through a single portal. Users will have to define their flight plan using the Digital Sky app. “Every flight will take off only after receiving permission, which gets verified by the hardware inside the drone. If there is any breach in the flight plan during the flight, a notification will go to Digital Sky," explains Mughilan Thiru Ramasamy, chief executive of Bengaluru-based start-up Skylark Drones.

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Effectively, Digital Sky will make most of the existing micro and bigger drones obsolete, unless drone companies tweak the hardware to make them complaint with Digital Sky. “Drone companies will have to build new drones or provide embedded hardware that plugs in existing drones, connecting them to the Digital Sky app," says Karan Kamdar, founder of Indian Drone Racing League. This means users planning on buying drones in the micro category should hold on for a while, until it becomes clear which models would be compatible with Digital Sky. Kamdar also adds that the Digital Sky won’t be ready until next year.

Cost of owning drones

Buying and registering a micro drone can be an expensive affair. A drone like the DJI Spark ($399)—which can go up to 500 feet, capture Full HD videos and eke out 16 minutes of flight time—would cost around 30,000. This does not include the registration cost. Getting a unique identification can cost 1,000, while an application for UOAP can cost an additional 25,000.

Meanwhile, nano drone buyers can opt for Parrot Mambo FPV (First Person View, which allows a user to see what the drone sees). It weighs just 64g and is also lighter on the pocket ($179, approx 12,879). It can go up to 100 metres and provides 10 minutes of flight time. Users can control it with a connected smartphone and can see the aerial footage captured by it in real time with the parrot cockpit glasses. Then there is the C-Me FPV Drone ( 5,716), which weighs 130g. It can record Full HD videos at 30fps (frames per second), can provide a flight time of up to 10 minutes and can be manoeuvre with a smartphone.

To be sure, individuals can use drones to give a new spin to their social media posts by capturing videos and stills with a top-down view. Farmers can also use drones to monitor crops. For example, Skylark Drones is working with solar firms in India to estimate solar potential of roof-tops and solar farms, and with some large seed companies to accurately estimate their yield. Experts believe that the new policy is an important step for the ecosystem, despite the initial teething troubles that users may face while registering these drones, as it will lead to more applications of drones in India.

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