Vidrona Ltd. was selected (from a number of organisations) to deliver one of the pilots on the Frontier Technology Livestreaming programme funded by the Department for International Development.
Our focus was to improve planning and maintenance of rural infrastructure developed under the Government of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), using data gathered through UAVs and processed through computer vision and machine learning algorithms. You can read more about the problem we are trying to solve here.
The project was commissioned in May 2018, and is to last a year in the test phase.
The purview of the project was to cover varied infrastructure assets in three of the most socially backward states in India: Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Bihar.
Apart from facing the usual challenges one faces on rural sites, the Vidrona team was tasked to collect data before the onset of the country’s South-West monsoons, which would have brought with them heavy rains and thunderstorms, rendering flying impossible.
Three Vidrona employees were deputised for each of the states, the team in Chhattisgarh was led by Mr. Ashish Srivastava (Chief — Operations and Finance) while the teams in Odisha and Bihar were led by Mr. Rohit Shrivastav (Operations Manager)
The team was to cover one district in each of the states, and we began with Rajnandgaon District of Chhattisgarh in May 2018. Before visiting the site, the Vidrona Team, along with the ICRG team visited the local district administration led by Mr. Chandan Kumar, District CEO as well as his team working on NREGA projects, namely Mr. Pratham Agarwal, Assistant programe officer, Rajnandgaon, Mr. Ashish Nanda — District ICRG Engineer, Mr. Bharat — Technical Engineer, MGNREGA, we gave them a full run own of what we trying to achieve, while better understanding the issues faced by them, in order to cater our solution to best suit their needs.
This is a crucial step to anyone introducing a technological solution to an existing development programme: MGNREGA are our route to mainstreaming drones for infrastructure planning and maintenance, so engaging them early and ensuring we know their needs is crucial to ensuring our tech is integrated into their work.
We also conveyed to the Mr. Kumar and the rest of the district administration that we were looking to work closely with some local youths, get them accustomed to, and comfortable with the operations of UAVs. The district management gave us ready approval, and instructed the engineers who were to accompany us to site — namely Mr. Ashish Nanda, and Mr. Gaurav to speak with the village Sarpanches (heads) and facilitate this.
MGNREGA, is by design a bottom-up program, where villagers suggest the development works they feel would best benefit them, and these are approved, and funds are then released by the government. Hence, for the drone program to be fully incorporated with MGNREGA long term, it is essential that the local populace has an active role in it, long term. This was the reason engagement of local youths was something FTL as a programme was eager to ensure.
In Rajnandgaon, we selected village Saloni to be the primary site, but also decided to collect data from villages Chhota Temri and Bhadera Navagaon. The sarpanch from village Saloni, Mr. Rajkumar Sanghre was kind enough to assign 3 trainees and one barefoot technician (BFT) with the team, not only did we share with them the details of drone operations, and what could be achieved with drone imaging, we also had them fly at the secondary sites, making sure that they gain confidence, and share the wonders of UAV operations with their friends and acquittances in the village.
Each evening we were in the village, we also gathered young children, around the age of 5 to 14 years of age, and spoke with them about what we were hoping to achieve, the technology, as well as other scientific topics, hoping to instil a further interest towards STEM in them. These were amongst the most rewarding times we spent on the project. The enthusiasm and questions posed by the kids were a great way to wind down after what was often a hard day spent on the field.
The team then moved on to Keonjhar district in Odisha on the 21st May. The district management led by Mr. Deepak Kumar Behera (APO,Patna), along with Mr.Kaushal Chandra Nayak (BDO,Patna), Mr.Purusottam Sahoo (A.E.E Patna) and Mrs.Nonalisha Chakra (GTPA Patna) were extremely helpful in providing us with the requisite permissions to fly at short notice. They also assured us that local people with a technical bend of mind would accompany us. They were also very excited about a possible long term project following the pilot, and have been in touch with us since.
After our introductions to the district management, we visited Katabeda village, the site selected in Odisha, and met with Mrs. Sumitra Behera (Sarpanch), Jayshree Barik (Gram Rojgar Samiti), they welcomed us to use all resources at their disposal, and, as requested, had 3 local youths accompany the team, and develop an understanding of UAV operations.
There was a huge interest in the new technology amongst the locals, with the team, at times having to request people to move back a bit for their safety, when the winds were high. Evening interactions similar to those that happened at Chhattisgarh were arranged for in Odisha as well, with the difference that kids, and adults, both used to come and benefit from them.
The ICRG team led by Mr. Mohiuddin Ahmed were extremely helpful in ensuring that everything went smoothly, from transportation and meals for the team to communicating with the locals, they supported us every step of the way.
The team then moved on to Bihar for the final leg of data collection on 28th May 2018, and completed all tasks set by the 30th of May, well before the onset of the South-West monsoons.
In the Gaya district of Bihar, we had support from Mr.Rajesh Kumar (district program officer), Mr. Santosh Kumar (Block PO), Mr. Shashi Bhushan (BDO), Mr.Suraj Nandan Prasad Singh from the district administration who ensured that we faced no challenges from the administration, with Mr. Murari being the ICRG representative working most closely with us.
One of the highlights of our short stay in Bihar was the interaction with some of the older villagers there, they enthusiasm that something new and useful was being done to better their quality of life was really heartening, with one of them actually coming forward to make a test flight.
Follow this Medium page for further updates as this pilot develops!