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MoU for Drone-Based Mineral Exploration in India

The National Mineral Development Corporation Ltd (NMDC), the country’s biggest iron ore public sector enterprise, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur (IIT-Kharagpur) for drone-based mineral excavation. The two organisations will develop software, products, methods, and algorithms for mineral exploration using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) as well as for capacity-building training programmes on mining technology.

According to an official, the collaboration makes NMDC the first central public sector enterprise (CPSE) in India to carry out drone-based geophysical observations and hyperspectral studies in mineral research. The NMDC and IIT-Kharagpur MoU marks a new beginning and has set a benchmark in the field of mineral exploration for the nation, the official added. For the last 60 years, NMDC has been mining minerals like copper, rock phosphate, limestone, magnesite, diamond, and tungsten, among others from the reconnaissance G4 level to the detailed G1 level of the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources.

As per reports, NMDC is also the first CPSE to use space geophysics in the central Indian diamond province and the first to use the online monitoring of exploration of data on the BHUVAN platform. NMDC is increasingly relying on technological innovation and the digitalisation of its database on mineral exploration and mining. The government has launched a few initiatives to regulate and monitor drone usage and activities in the country. Last year, it released a policy on drones as the technology is being used in several sectors including agriculture, urban planning, forestry, mining, disaster management, surveillance, and transport, among others. In September 2021, the government unveiled a IN₹120 crore (US$15.7 million) production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme to bolster drone production in the country. In February this year, the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, announced Drone Shakti, a cross-industry plan under which the government will bring together and strengthen manufacturers, application providers, pilots, and the entire drone industry ecosystem.

Data from a recent survey shows that the drone industry, over the next five to seven years, could potentially generate about 100,000 direct and indirect job opportunities.  However, presently, the sector is facing a critical dearth of drone pilots. Several public educational institutes have released programmes and courses to bride the gap. For instance, the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Andhra Pradesh announced it would offer a minor degree in drone studies . The minor course will be an additional certificate, provided alongside the main course, which includes Bachelor of Technology degrees in any field.

Earlier this month, the NIT had organised two-day skill development workshops on drone technology. The seminars aimed to enhance awareness of current and upcoming drone tech for various applications, improve skills and identify opportunities in the area, and design, integrate, calibrate, and test drone prototype models. Participants also learned troubleshooting in drone technology and drone architecture modelling through 3D printing. Further, another organisation, the Indian Institute of Technology in Mandi (IIT-Mandi), is looking to introduce a standalone engineering course on robotics, under which students would learn about drone technologies and related topics – instead of specialising in drones alongside their primary, traditional engineering degree.

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