Emerging Entrepreneurs

Keeping an eagle eye on oil and gas pipelines

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on February 18, 2019 Published on February 18, 2019

(Left to right) Akhil Gopalan, Co-founder; Rajeev Chandrasekharan, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder; and Navaneethakrishnan J, Co-founder, FeatherDyn Pvt Ltd   -  N Ramakrishnan

FeatherDyn is developing a drone that can make sure pipelines are free of encroachments

The three troop into a conference room at the Maker Village, an electronics hardware incubator, full of confidence and eager to talk about their venture. All three have qualifications in aeronautics and aerospace. They had known each other either from their previous jobs or from their college days. And, when Rajeev decided to start a venture, it was but natural for the three to get together and start it.

What was the idea that FeatherDyn had in mind when they started off? “We wanted to solve the case of long-range asset monitoring,” says Rajeev, who dons the hat of the Chief Executive Officer as well. There are nearly 30,000 km of oil and gas pipelines in the country and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board mandates that these pipelines have to be inspected at least once a month, especially for right-of-way. At present, says Rajeev, oil and gas companies employ foot patrols or use helicopters to inspect the pipelines. Both these methods, he adds, are time-consuming and expensive. Once the pipelines are laid, there should not be any activity 5 metre on either side.

The trio thought the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, will help in easier monitoring of these pipelines. And, if the drones were to carry high-definition cameras, the monitoring will be even better. They incorporated FeatherDyn in March 2018 and have now come out with a prototype of the drone made of glass fibre for the airframe and done a few trial flights. The Director-General of Civil Aviation has given them a location in Munnar to conduct a few test flights to check out the drone’s capabilities. The final product will have a carbon fibre airframe for its light weight and strength.

 

According to Rajeev and Akhil, similar long-range drones are in use in Canada and France. It is a matter of time before foreign drone manufacturers enter India, given the size of the market. The trio wanted to be first off the block. The drone developed by them is a fixed-wing drone that gives it the capability for vertical take-off and landing and for cruise and hover functions. At present, the drones available have a limited distance range, of up to 10 km, whereas the one developed by them can fly up to 100 km on a single charge, using lithium polymer batteries. The Centre’s drone policy, which recently allowed the use of drones, is expected to get refined and to come up with another version of the policy permitting drones for commercial applications. “In all these cases, we will need long-range capability for the drone. That is the main disadvantage that the current drones have,” says Akhil. The design of the drones now permit only forward motion. “Adapting a wing like an aircraft into it, it is like a hybrid configuration of a helicopter design plus an aeroplane. It can fly long distances and will be able to carry larger payloads,” says Akhil, of the one developed by FeatherDyn.

High-end drones

They still have a long way to go before they come out with a minimum viable product, which they expect to do in June. FeatherDyn pitched to the public sector GAIL (India) Ltd, from which it hopes to raise ₹1.5 crore. The money will be used to grow the team and come up with a minimum viable product. FeatherDyn plans to develop drones that can carry payloads of up to 10 kg, which means they can be fitted with a combination of normal cameras, high-definition ones and thermal cameras. They can be used for search and rescue operations at sea as well and for emergency supply of relief materials.

The drones will also have a homing device, which means it will be able to come back to its base on auto-pilot mode. Right now, the policy does not allow drones to go beyond visual range of the pilot, which limits the distance they can fly. The trio expect this to be set right in the revised drone policy and want to be ready for it as and when it happens.

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Published on February 18, 2019
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