To boost internet connectivity, Uttarakhand CM launches aerostat balloon facility
Uttarakhand Chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat on Friday unveiled the country’s first balloon-mounted internet network in a bid to bring reliable internet access to the Himalayan state’s most remote areas.
He launched an internet aerostat balloon in Dehradun, saying the state-of-the-art technology would help facilitate development in remote hilly areas besides playing a crucial role in disaster reduction in a state that was prone to natural calamities.
“Incidentally, we are the first state in the country to have this cost-effective technology, which will help link all remote hilly areas with internet connectivity,” Rawat said during launch of the balloon at a function organised by Information Technology Development Agency (ITDA) at IT Park.
“This hi-tech system will give a fillip to crucial facilities relating to health and education in remote areas besides playing a crucial role in disaster reduction during natural calamities.”
Rawat said the aerostat balloon technology would help fill a huge gap in internet connectivity in the hill state owing to its tough terrain.
He attributed that gap to the sparsely populated state and its geographical area being far bigger in comparison.
“As a result, investments (by IT companies) are meagre (in those remote areas),” Rawat said, adding that the internet connectivity through the aerostat balloon technology will also play one more crucial role.
“It will also help facilitate communication via the internet in all frontier areas that are located along the international borders touching the mountain state,” he said.
Internet connectivity through the aerostat balloon system would also help facilitate relief and rescue operations in remote areas, he said. “It will not only help those stranded in disaster hit areas to establish contact with officials but will also help facilitate relief and rescue measures areas which are not easily approachable.”
Rawat said the technology would also help the state government catering to the now growing demand of the people inhabiting remote hilly areas for mobile telephony and internet connectivity.
“Initially, they would demand for electricity, water and roads but most remote areas in the state are now equipped with those facilities,” he said.
“So, people have now moved on and have started demanding for mobile telephony and internet connectivity.”
Citing an example of Ghesh in Chamoli, he said when he visited the border village some eight months ago most its residents requested him for mobile telephony and internet connectivity.
“It is then that we hit upon the idea of providing it (Ghesh) internet connectivity through the aerostat balloon system,” he said, adding that eight months later that entire remote border village is known as Uttarakhand’s first digital village.
Rawat credited ITDA director Amit Sinha with bringing about “that transformational change in a remote hilly village beyond which lie only the snow-capped Himalayan ranges followed by the China border”.
“Not long ago the residents of that border village would have to traverse 125 km just to get medicine for fever. They now get themselves diagnosed and treated through a sophisticated system of telemedicine.
ITDA director Sinha said the internet aerostat balloon technology could have helped save hundreds of people killed by flash floods that hit Kedarnath in 2013.
“I was part of the team which carried out post flood relief and rescue operations,” he recalled, adding batteries of mobile phones of most of the flood victims had not run out long after the disaster had struck.
“Had the disaster hit area been equipped with the internet aerostat technology, many of those victims could have contacted us through that system and their lives could have been saved,” Sinha said.
‘This technology can also check migration’
If replicated across Uttarakhand, the internet aerostat balloon technology would help check forced migration from the hill state by giving a boost to development in the central Himalayan region, Raj Kumar Pant, a professor of aerospace engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai said.
“It is one aerial platform which has multifarious usage including cost effective internet connectivity. If replicated, it will give a boost to development and check forced migration from the state,” said Pant, who is the architect of the “country’s first internet aerostat balloon” launched by Rawat.
“I handled the research and designing part of this unique aerial platform,” he said about the aerostat balloon, adding it was developed by him after an agreement was signed by IIT Mumbai and the Uttarakhand government after the state’s formation in 2000. According to Pant, the aerostat balloon which is propelled by helium gas can go up to 150-500 metre height.
“It has a light 25 km payload which is equipped with a router, a weather station and sensitive night vision cameras,” he said.
“It (aerostat balloon) not only helps in providing the internet connectivity to the remote hilly areas but also has several other usages,” said ITDA director Amit Sinha. “It also provides data pertaining to weather as well as the environment besides keeping a watch on deep forests and similar other inaccessible areas.”
Through the state-of-the-art device, Sinha said, officials could also keep a track of Naxalites or other subversive elements and their hideouts in forests.
Besides, according to experts, the aerostat balloon can help measure some 18 weather and environment related parametres. “Some of the few parametres are humidity, temperature, wind velocity and high altitude conditions,” said Anil Tadkod, Head, State e-Governance Mission Team (SeMT) that facilitated installation of the aerostat balloon.