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Ministry of Defence to sharpen drone imaging for land surveys, releases white paper for comments

The Ministry of Defence calls for stakeholder comments on paper to set standards on drone image quality amid expanding uses of the technology

What’s the news: With a goal to set uniform standards to evaluate drone image quality, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) drafted a concept paper detailing the parameters to assess the quality of drone images for land survey.

As per a press release on September 7, MoD’s Centre of Excellence – Satellite and Unmanned Remote Vehicle Initiative (CoE – SURVEI) prescribed the technical parameters which may serve as a reference standard to estimate image quality. It called upon stakeholders to solicit their comments on the paper. Further, the department claimed it was setting the “world’s first standard on land survey using drone.”

Why it matters: Just days ago, the Karnataka police launched a training programme to teach officers how to fly drones over ‘sensitive’ areas. Similarly, the Border Security Forces (BSF) developed tear gas shell dropping drones for police to use during riots. Now, the MoD wants to standardise drone imaging allowing for better surveillance by authorities. Central and state governments are also working on introducing other surveillance-related technologies like facial recognition-enabled CCTV cameras, AI-based video analytics, etc. Such instances show that while the government touts the use of drones for agriculture or aerial shows, the technology is being quietly revamped with a graver aim of tech-surveillance, coupled with a lack of data and privacy protection legislation.

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MoD says parameters to help with data analysis: According to the MoD, a lack of uniform parameters for land survey by drones hinders post-processing analysis on drone imagery output. This restricts the ability to extract relevant information from drone data using AI & ML tools.

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“The draft standards prescribe 19 parameters to evaluate quality of drone output and eight extension metrics/ techniques to estimate image quality, apart from indicating sample benchmarking from literature,” said MoD in the press release.

As per the white paper, some of the techniques used to estimate image quality are: Modular Transfer Function, Median Filter, Log Frequency and uniformity of detail throughout the image, etc.

Drones often used for protest surveillance: In the past, the Delhi police has used drones to monitor the farmers protest. Although the authorities required the consent of the DGCA or the Ministry of Civil Aviation, MediaNama reported that neither entities had sanctioned the use of drones at the time. Similarly, the Lucknow Safe City project in its proposal suggested deploying drones in  the city to ‘snoop over terraces and rooftops’ of residents.’ Under the garb of ‘combatting crimes against women’ this move failed to consider the consent and privacy of the people, who are the biggest stakeholders in such a project.

Advocacy groups like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) have asked the Centre to create a single inter-ministerial committee (IMC) on drone-related issues to address these issues pertaining to drones. However, it appears that the government is focusing on sophisticating drones for military purposes.

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I'm interested in the shaping and strengthening of rights in the digital space. I cover cybersecurity, platform regulation, gig worker economy. In my free time, I'm either binge-watching an anime or off on a hike.

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