The skies above Rajpath on Saturday lit up in a kaleidoscope of colors as a swarm of 1,000 drones painted 3D images of Bapu with his cane, the tricolor and the map of India. The mastermind behind the event were two former students of IIT-Delhi and their teacher who spent six months designing and manufacturing the drones and preparing different animations to recreate in the sky.
Tanmay Bunkar and Anuj Kumar Barnwal, physics graduates from IIT Delhi, co-founded their startup Botlab Dynamics with Dr. Sarita Ahlawat in 2016. Their goal was to replace large, expensive drones with simpler, cheaper drones that can perform the same tasks and transport the same payloads by forming a collaborative aerial network or system. Over time, they received funding from the Department of Science and Technology and the I-Hub Foundation for Cobotics (IHFC) at IIT-Delhi.
On Saturday, the sky above Rajpath was their canvas and buzzed with their brushes with which they brought different designs to life to mark 75 years of Independence. These included a giant three-dimensional globe, an ascending tricolor, the map of India with the Ashok chakra in the center, among others. This was an elaborate process that took several months to simply conceptualize and design.
“We thought of a concept where we would show six to seven models. This then had to be converted into an animation on a computer. It’s a very time-consuming exercise and each animation can take up to two weeks. And then we run this animation through simulations to make sure the drones don’t collide with each other and take into account things like air speed After that we feed the program into each drone and then we take them to the ground and do test flights,” says Dr. Ahlawat.
It was in July last year that the Department of Defense told Botlab Dynamics that they would be part of the Republic Day celebrations and that they were to target 1,000 drones. Until then, Tanmay and co had never handled more than 80 drones simultaneously.
“The reliability of these drones was essential to keep the show running smoothly. We have 1,000 drones to run a show, but we don’t have 1,000 people to maintain each drone, do a pre-flight check, etc. is a luxury that we just didn’t have, so we decided to make drones ourselves to find out the causes of the various errors and failures,” says Tanmay Bunkar.
Soon they began ordering parts and assembling the hardware. But those were the days when global supply chains had collapsed and shortages of different parts such as semiconductor chips started to hit different industries. This forced the team to look for alternatives in the country. That’s when they found someone in Manesar who made motherboards for cell phones and asked him to make circuit boards.
The outer shell of the drones was made by a fruit basket and broomstick maker in Seelampur, Tanmay says. The end product was drones that were almost 80% made in India, including important parts like flight controllers (or drone brains), precision GPS and motor controller.
“In India, we need that capability. We need to know how. We can’t just be a service provider through startups like Zomato and Swiggy. We can’t keep relying on the outside world for hardware. electronics and high-speed trains, computers, I am glad that through our participation in R-Day celebrations, we have been able to shine a light on the need for hardware solutions,” says Dr Ahlawat.
Ask them what’s next for the startup and Tanmay says he’ll be selling drone shows and he’s already been inundated with requests from big brands wanting to launch their products big, as well as government departments that wish to promote their programs.