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Want to fly your own drone like Zomato? These YouTubers explain why that won’t be easy

By Itika Sharma Punit

Zomato has hit a milestone in the Indian food-delivery sector by successfully pilot-testing drone-delivery.

However, rolling out its service may be a different story, given the country’s labyrinthine rules and regulations. In any case, private individual drone-enthusiasts kicked by the Gurugram-based company’s initiative be warned: You have no clue what you are getting into.

Yesterday (June 12), Zomato’s drone flew a distance of 5 kilometres in “about 10 minutes” at a peak speed of 80 kilometres per hour, carrying a payload of 5 kilograms. In December 2018, Zomato had acquired TechEagle, a Lucknow-based drone startup, which it had said would help create “a hub-to-hub delivery network powered by hybrid multi-rotor drones.”

Zomato’s recent experiment—though done at a remote site approved by the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA)—is a milestone for the Indian food tech space. “The only possible way to reduce the average 30.5 minutes (average time required for Zomato’s biker fleet to deliver food) to 15 minutes is to take the aerial route—roads are not efficient for very fast delivery,” Deepinder Goyal, founder and CEO of Zomato, said in a blog post.

The test comes seven months after the Indian government lifted a 2014 ban that deemed flying drones in India illegal.

Flying a drone in India is, however, not just about buying one from Amazon and taking off. Private drone enthusiasts would be served well by heeding the advice of a bunch of YouTubers on this subject.

Not-so-digital sky

On Dec. 1, 2018, India launched the Digital Sky website to enable registration of drones, pilots, and operators. The first step is to fill out a registration form (that appears simple and has a pretty intense captcha verification), for individuals as well as companies.

The registration options can, however, confuse a layperson.

In a video published in December 2018, a YouTube user by the name Dronetech Doctor, struggles to choose the category under which he should register. The four available are: remote pilot profile, individual operator profile, operator profile (as an organisation’s representative), and manufacturer profile.

It takes Dronetech Doctor a couple of attempts to figure out which category he fits in, although, his attempt at registering his drone is eventually unsuccessful due to other glitches.

In a more recent video published in April, Dronetech Doctor highlights how the Digital Sky website is still in the beta stage.

Quartz reached out to Digital Sky but did not get a reply.

The elusive training certificate

The Digital Sky website sought a “training certificate” from a governnment-listed institute to register as a pilot. In a video published on YouTube last month, a user called Vedant Rusty explains how that makes registering on Digital Sky “impossible.”

In the six-minute video, Delhi-resident Rusty and a few of his friends, travel 162 kilometres to Hisar in Haryana, to a flying institute recommended on Digital Sky, to get training and certification. However, at the registered address, they are told that the facility does not provide any such certification.

No place for foreigners

Non-Indians cannot fly drones in India. On March 18, popular YouTuber Karl Rock posted a video about getting caught by the local police in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

Rock, who left his life in New Zealand for a “mission to visit EVERY state and union territory in India plus India before partition”—so far he has covered 33 of the 36 within India—said the cops threatened to confiscate his drone. They let go after he wrote an apology letter and promised to never fly his drone in India again.

“I learned a lesson and the lesson is that if you are a foreigner, you cannot fly a drone in India at all. You’re just not allowed,” Rock says in the video. “… If you want to fly a drone in India and get some shots in India, you have to have an Indian apply for special permission and fly the drone for you as well.”