By Shruti Sonal:
Approximately a month back, I read about a group of school-going youngsters – Sanchit, Pranav, and Triambikay – from Delhi who developed a drone that detects air pollution. In what could prove to be a boon for one of the world’s most polluted cities, their invention correctly reports the chemical composition of the air it is flown in.
Unlike the typical large air pollution monitoring stations or instruments/tools, this one is portable and compact. It is a fully autonomous device that comes equipped with a GPS, a barometer, accelerometer, a gyroscope and a pollution monitoring toolkit, and is designed to take off, hover around the city, check the pollution and land on its own. Pollution monitoring kit contains sensors like CO2, O2, and a dust sensor, measuring the presence of specific compounds in the air and providing readings in ppm (parts per million). One device can measure air pollution readings of several cities without having to deploy multiple drones! The data is then sent to a server, which displays live readings on pollution levels on a web page. Interestingly, the data can not only be viewed by the government or environmental experts but also by the public, making them active participants in the efforts to protect the environment.
I was extremely curious to understand what drives Class 10 students who are at an age where they are typically dealing with the trappings of puberty, to achieve so much. Well, according to Sanchit, it was their interest in technology, engineering and a common aspiration to build gadgets for a cause, which united them as friends and inventors.
By January 2015, Sanchit had developed a keen interest in drones and started researching on the technology involved. Pranav, intrigued by his research, suggested that they build a drone which could help bring greater accountability of pollutants present in the air. Not ones to sit helplessly as they read news reports about the deteriorating conditions in Delhi, they decided to use their interest in technology, to be the change.
The first step was to create a prototype, which came with its own set of struggles. Since the three lived so far apart, they organised weekly meetups at the MakerSpace, a community driven initiative where tools and devices are available for those looking to collaborate to design and build new gadgets. Here they discussed the features of the drone, designed its aerodynamics, planned the materials that needed to be used, and soon they had a blueprint. In the meantime, they also saved up money to buy the necessary materials for the drone.
By July 2015, in a span of five weeks, they were ready with their first prototype of the Air Pollution Monitoring Drone! With a hint of pride in his voice, Sanchit told me, “We made this drone for about just one-fourth the cost of commercial drones, used for a similar use! The total cost to make this was about INR 40,000.”
I wondered if it was difficult balancing the project alongside school. “Yes, it was quite tough. We used every free period to research the project! Our parents were not supportive at the start. But knowing the scope of this project and our huge interest in it, they eventually backed our efforts.” With teachers, it was a mixed bag. “Some were really impressed seeing our passion but others were not that much happy about it. They wanted us to focus on academics and textbooks, and not deviate.”
According to Sanchit, he is now brushing up on his software skills, putting together a team of highly skilled people and working on the backend architecture of his future organisation.
“I believe that we and the government can easily cooperate with each other on the large-scale use of drones, regulating its use in India and also removing the ban on its use. Our intention is to use drones to help people and raise awareness amongst the general public,” outlines Sanchit.
What a marvellous thought to sign off with! As the movement to clean Delhi’s toxic air gathers momentum, such innovations can play a significant role in bringing together the efforts of the government and the common man. Drones have already effectively been used in China to monitor air pollution. Hopefully, in India, too this brilliant innovation can be utilised to its full potential.