Scientists at Bengaluru’s National Research Development Forum (NDRF) are developing an aerostat – a hot air balloon or craft – to help farmers in agriculture, including scaring away pests and birds.
The small craft, a floating balloon measuring three or four metres in length, will be deployed about 100 meters from the ground and fitted with acoustic devices and lasers to scare away birds.
“Birds and rodents can be scared or chased away using lasers that will emit short lights. Similarly the noise emanating from acoustic devices can scare them,” said Dr K Ramachandra, director, NDRF.
“During our interaction with the agriculture researchers and the farming community, we got to know that birds carrying viruses contaminate fresh water bodies while they come to quench their thirst. This can have a devastating impact on aquaculture farms that rely on freshwater for breeding of fishes and prawns.”
The NDRF team has been working with the farming community in the Bhimavaram region of Andhra Pradesh along with horticulture and fisheries departments, and students of a private engineering college to execute the project.
The aerostat can be deployed for a week or two before it is anchored for refuelling. The team of researchers are yet to decide on the whether to use hydrogen or helium to keep the balloon afloat.
The cost of the aerostat is still being worked on but NDRF said there is a conscious effort to keep it affordable for the farming community.
The project is part of a broader push by the NDRF – the research and development wing of the Institution of Engineers (India) – to use technology for conservation of soil, monitoring crops and preventing contamination of water.
The NDRF is also developing mini-autonomous underwater vehicles that will monitor the quality of water in fish-breeding farms.
“The surface board of these mini vehicles will be fitted with sensor suite to monitor the quality of the water at aqua farms. They will rely back data about the pH level etc,” said Ramachandra, also the CEO of the National Programme for MAVs (NP-MICAV).
The NP-MICAV is a Rs 90 crore programme sponsored by the central government to build mini-autonomous flying objects.
Government R&D institutes such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation, National Aerospace Laboratories, Indian Institute of Science, IITs and universities are part of the programme.
“We are currently working on it so it can be deployed soon,” said Ramachandra.
The role of aerostats in India has been largely confined for surveillance purposes till now. An imported aerostat was put on display during the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi to create special effects during the opening and closing ceremonies.
The NDRF was established in 1969 and has been mandated to innovate and carry R&D, design, production in various fields of engineering. Development of Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) is one of its core activities. These MAVs can be used for defence surveillance, disaster management, search and rescue etc. These comprise fixed, rotary and flapping wing MAVs. Fitted with cameras and sensors, they can carry surveillance and search and rescue operations.