Mumbai to host India's first racing competition for nano drones

Updated: Sep 05, 2017, 12:06 IST | Shunashir Sen

India's first racing competition for nano drones will be held over the next two weekends at a venue in Lower Parel

A participant flies a nano drone at the trials for Pluto Racing League
A participant flies a nano drone at the trials for Pluto Racing League

The future isn't here in India yet when it comes to driverless delivery vans such as the ones being tested in the US or robots serving tables in Japan. But while drones still haven't quite invaded the Indian airspace, their increasing presence has prompted the government to draft regulations concerning their use. These rules, though, are meant only for those devices that are above 250 gm in weight. Nano drones, on the other hand, don't fall under the ambit of the law since these weigh roughly between 40 and 100 gm. They are available for anyone to play around with and now, the country's first nano drone racing competition is set to unfold over the next weekend at Lower Parel.

A nano drone in flight
A nano drone in flight

Drona Aviation, a start-up launched in 2014, is organising the event, called Pluto Racing League (PRL). Pluto is the name that the firm has given to the nano drones it manufactures, and Apurva Godbole, the CEO, tells us a bit about what they are trying to do with the product. "The idea is to get these drones in the hands of students and other interested people so that they can add applications to them. We also conduct workshops so that we can educate people about drones, raise awareness, and build an ecosystem that will help the industry take off."

A nano drone is usually only slightly bigger than the palm of a human hand
A nano drone is usually only slightly bigger than the palm of a human hand

PRL is an effort towards that end. Two trial rounds were held last weekend, in which 51 applicants between nine and 41 years of age were whittled down to a list of 32 people. They will take part in the first round of qualifiers this weekend, where each person will have to complete three laps through a row of 15-20 hoops as quickly as possible. They were already given a crash course on flying nano drones during the trials, apart from being given a lowdown of the technical know-how that goes into building one. The final round, on September 10, will feature eight participants, before the eventual winner is decided.

Godbole elaborates on the problems he had to face while organising the competition (which also reflect how the drones industry in India is still in a nascent phase). "Reaching out to the audience was a bit of a worry — if I were to organise the same thing in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, I'd be flooded with applications. It was also difficult initially to find sponsors and a venue," he reveals.

Speaking about the future, he says, "Once people realise the number of applications a drone can have, once they see it take off globally, they are bound to follow in India. But it all depends on how the government opens up regulations. As soon as that happens, you will see an explosion in the sector."

When that will happen is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, head down to the venue this Saturday to check out smaller versions of a gadget that, one day, could even be used to deliver pizzas to your doorstep.

At: One Indiabulls, Lower Parel
When: September 9 and 10, 10 am onwards
Call: 8779952098

Another competition planned this month
Indian Drone Racing League is the country's first and only other such competition, with participants from across the country. It was held at IIT Gandhinagar in October last year, and featured more advanced devices. Now, the company behind it is organising a night-racing competition at BKC between September 22 and 24.

Nano drone parts
>> A motherboard that acts as the brain of the device
>> Four propellers
>> Four small motors
>> A frame to support all of the above
>> A phone application to fly the device

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