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Tiny vehicles may keep an eye out for naxals

BS Reporter  |  Chennai/ Bangalore 

During natural calamities, the Army is often called out to help with the relief and rescue operations. But, it is almost always working blind. The Army personnel often have no idea what may lie ahead.

The uncertainty can delay the relief and rescue operations. What if the rescuers are able to see what lies ahead well before going out there.

DRDO labs like the National Aeronautical Laboratories and CSIR labs are developing sensors and other sub-systems required for micro and nano vehicles (MAVs). It has also given an opportunity for tie-ups between biologists and engineers.

The micro air vehicles were proposed to be developed in April 1998. Since then, there have been efforts at miniaturisation of engines, and other sub-systems required in a micro/nano air vehicle.

According to Prahlada, Chief Controller, Research and Development (Aero & Services Interaction), Defence Research and Development Organisation, India has the capability to build MAVs as small as 300 mm and weighing 300 gms. Efforts are on to bring it down to 100 mm to 200 mm and to less than 200 gms, he told reporters on the sidelines of a seminar on micro and nano air vehicles here.

“MAVs are small, almost bird-like. They are accurate and they cost very less,” Prahalada said, adding, “they can be manufactured in big numbers very, very cheap.” Indian technologists are studying and analysing the flapping wings of birds and their energy efficiency to see if they can develop technologies that can be incorporated in MAVs to increase endurance, lighten them and improve energy efficiency. “We are discussing how bird flight can be simulated and we can mimic bird-flight,” he said, pointing out how some birds fly for 1,000s of miles without eating for two months. The idea is to explore the possibility of flying MAVs with “bio-batteries”, where energy is produced purely by chemical process, similar to the process in humans and animals. A Rs 100 crore project has been launched in India under which 10 colleges and academic institutions, 10 industry partners and 20 R&D labs are working on technologies needed for MAVs, officials said.

Technologists are now engaged in in-depth analysis of bird flight to mimic it and make indigenously-developed Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) more energy-efficient, enduring and flexible when used for surveillance.

Prahlada said CRPF, BSF and police forces are acquiring MAVs for counter-terrorism to tackle low-intensity conflicts and urban warfare with the help of these “almost bird-like” vehicles. They provide information in real time. These MAVs can take videos and transmit back to the ground enabling “minimum reaction time”, officials said.

In case of the micro and nano flying machines, there are efforts at convergence of technologies and use of biological sciences and physics to make biological fuel cells and enzymatic fuel cells to help reduce weight of the batteries. It’s an integration of micro, nano and biological sciences. As these are low investment projects, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) realise it takes time to develop the technologies, it is inviting bids from private enthusiasts and institutions to develop them. “The problem,” said V J Sundaram, advisor (micro and nano systems), National Design and Research forum, “is that the technology takes five to seven years to perfect.” The forum is a national platform for engineers, scientists and technologists engaged in R&D activities

First Published: Thu, August 19 2010. 00:12 IST