On December 1, 2018, the creation of India Flying Labs was officially announced. Since then, it has grown into an open, collaborative network of technology enthusiasts who are keenly applying drones and data for social good. However, India Flying Labs would not have been possible without multi-stakeholder collaboration, which was a key component in building an ecosystem in India to empower communities with the knowledge and tools to make technology accessible and applicable. In order to create this much-needed ecosystem, it was crucial that the India Flying Labs team bring together representatives from government, academia, think tanks, social entrepreneurs,technology manufacturers, and service providers for an open discussion around their own experiences and perspectives, with the goal of identifying opportunities to co-create sustainable solutions based on drones and data.
That is why, at the WeRobotics Global Conference and Strategy meeting earlier this year, we at India Flying Labs shared the idea of having a ‘Co-creation Workshop’ with our partners, which would build on the success of similar workshops at other Senegal and Panama Flying Labs. The team discussed this idea with partners in India, and the group ultimately agreed that this would indeed be a good idea. The goal of this kind of a meeting was not only help achieve the vision of Flying Labs in general, but also to bring value to the partners who have been backing this idea since day one.
While we searched for the perfect venue, we knew it had to not only be in the national capital, but that it also had to be a location that inherently inspires social innovation. Our friends at IndShine got in touch with their friends at IIT Delhi and we all kept our fingers crossed as our request was processed by the then President of IIT Delhi Alumni Association, Mr. Atul Bal. Our hard work paid off when he not only approved the request but also extended invaluable support.
Then came the major task of gathering just the right audience to benefit from and contribute to this kind of interaction. This group would become the torchbearers of our co-creation. Fortunately, India Flying Labs was blessed with tremendous support from our friends and partners at, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology Delhi, Caerobotics, Geoknit, Technology for Wildlife, Redwing Aerospace Labs, DroneLab, IndShine, Better Drones, Drone Federation of India, Global Futures Network, Feswa Communications, Agriculture Times, Think India, and Humanitarian Aid International. They went out of their way to spread the word and helped us forge partnerships all over India.
As part of this partnership building exercise, India Flying Labs embarked on a month-long pan-India journey, from New Delhi to Gurgaon to Kanpur to Chitrakoot to Lucknow to Gorakhpur to Mumbai to Bangalore to Pune. In each city, we had the opportunity to meet key people one-on-one, to interact with local leaders with parallel thoughts and visions, and to introduce them to our philosophy behind ‘co-creation’ and collaboration for ‘Sustainable Futures with Drones and AI’. Once again, we received support from a wide range of partners, from senior, experienced leaders in the sector to young students to enthusiastic professionals.
Finally, on May 16-17 2019, more than 80 participants from all across India came together at the Department of Management Studies at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi for the workshop on ‘Co-creating Sustainable Futures with Drones and AI’.
This impressive group was composed of thought leaders, researchers, academics, innovators, technology service providers, nonprofit organisations, officials from government bodies, and students, all of whom had assembled to brainstorm how drones and AI can be utilised for social applications—sustainable agriculture, nature conservation, disaster management healthcare, sustainable development and youth empowerment.
The session kicked off with a warm welcome by Dr. Ruchi Saxena, Director of Caerobotics and India Flying Labs, who shared India Flying Labs’ journey and vision for developing an ecosystem for technologies in social good applications.
Keynote speakers who followed this introduction included Professor M.P. Gupta, Head of the Department of Management Studies at IIT Delhi, Mr. Atul Bal, MD, Protech Systems and Past President of IIT Delhi Alumni Association, Dr. N.M. Prusty, Co-Founder of Humanitarian Aid International, Dr. Rajiv Tandon, Technical Director ofPATH, Mr. Vijay Saluja, Former Chief Engineer of the New Delhi Municipal Council, Dr. Aakash Shrivastava, Joint Director and Head of the National Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Kailash Gupta, Director of India Chapter for The International Emergency Management Society, Mr. Nakul Saxena, Co-Founder of iSpirit, and Mr. Saurabh Jain, Vice President of PayTM.
Each keynote speech addressed the need for frugal, grass-root level innovation to reduce the gap in accessibility to technologies in India, and stressed the fact that localisation is key to developing an effective ecosystem of drones and AI for social good. The participants expressed their support for the implementation of these concepts, and all agreed that being able to help bring this vision into reality was truly inspiring.
Sonja Betschart from WeRobotics then shared almost 30 case studies with the group, representing Flying Labs projects from all across the world. She explained that success is not just about the drones—but also about data and community engagement.
Following these discussions, the participants split into three sub-groups, in which they discussed and brainstormed the six main themes for the workshop. These groups participated in two additional sessions, during which they discussed the challenges that might be solved using drones and AI in three different sectors of ‘Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development’, ‘Agriculture and Youth Empowerment,’ and ‘Disasters and Healthcare.’ They also elaborated on use-cases and the value of drones and data in these specific contexts.
By the end of these sessions, each group had selected the five best ideas they had arrived at, which they then presented to the combined audience. A final vote was held to determine the most promising ideas which had come out of the exercise. The winning ideas were a water conservation project, a human/wildlife conflict management project, cargo drones for medical supplies, accident assessment, and training programs for village youth.
By now, the group’s enthusiasm had reached new heights, and participants eagerly embarked on creating a roadmap for putting these partnerships and ideas into action. All agreed that the workshop had been such a success that it should be replicated in locations across India, in partnership with various host institutions and delving into specific topics. Following this very successful pilot session, we are excited to continue to grow these partnerships, and to host many more co-creating sessions in the future!
Finally, India Flying Labs would like to extend our special thanks to Mr. Atul Bal and the coordinating team from IIT Delhi, Anupriya Goyal, Himanshu Tyagi and Harsha Yadav, for their immense leadership and mentorship to make this event possible. We will be back soon with more exciting events!