(September 28, 2022) A video on YouTube sparked a life-saving idea in Harshwardhan Zala – the one that came after the teenager saw a handful of soldiers trying to defuse a mine, and in the process, it exploded leaving many injured. He couldn’t get the image out of his head and kept thinking about a possible solution that could help locate and deal with landmines without putting human life in danger. This gave way to a drone that can detect and detonate landmines, which the inventor and co-founder of Aerobotics7 built at the age of 15.
“We’ve developed a technology called multi-spectral detection to identify metal and plastic landmines, unexploded ordnance, and improvised explosive devices. We can detect explosive devices, track their location and detonate them with our wireless detonator, averting any human risk,” the bespectacled teenager told Forbes India.
Developed over three years, EAGLE A7 (Escort for Attacking on Ground & buried Landmines as Enemy) is a battery-operated quadcopter drone that was built using a 3D printer. With an accuracy rate of 91 percent, it can detect landmine explosives and send real-time data to a ground control station. So how exactly does it work? The drone detects landmines while hovering closer to the ground, and sends real-time signals to the nearest army base. It also drops a wireless detonator on the spot, which can be blasted by the military. “I am currently working with the Indian Army and CRPF to help clear all the landmines in the country. Once that is accomplished, I will share my technology with the rest of the world,” India’s drone whizz told The Better India.
Born to an accountant father and a homemaker mother, the Ahmedabad resident was always into electronics and technology, so much so that at age 10, he made a remote control that could control and operate home appliances wirelessly. Seeing his interest in gadgets, his parents encouraged his talent. At a tender age, he was busy looking for solutions to the problems of the world. “I would be reading books about the problems that the world was facing, and when I could, I would visit the cybercafé and watch YouTube videos about these problems. Finding a solution was like my mission then,” he told The Better India in an interview.
Since he was too young to be allowed at a cyber cafe, he asked his granddad to accompany him and would spend seven-to-eight hours reading and learning. During one such visit to the cyber cafe, he came across a video that reflected how people die of explosions because of undetected landmines. This got him thinking about a solution, and made a prototype, however, his age played a spoiler as none of the companies took him seriously. “Some advised me to complete my education, while others were outright dismissive,” the Global Indian added, and the rejection was a redirection for him as he soon started his company Aerobotics7 in 2016, with the help of seed money from his parents and his savings that he earned by guiding engineering students on their academic courses and projects.
The invention got the attention of the Gujarat government with whom he signed a Memorandum of Understanding worth ₹5 crores at the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017. “In 2017, after the exhibition of my 5th prototype in Gujarat, the govt provided me with two and a half lakhs. The funds were still not enough for building the drone so, I imported parts from Taiwan and China and concentrated on the tech,” he told The Tribal Box. It also opened up more avenues for the teenager who visited Silicon Valley and was invited to events like Maker Faire Bay Area. Harshwardhan, who took a break after his class 10 exams to focus on his startup, enrolled in the Copenhagen Business School to study Business Strategy and Innovation. In 2018, he demonstrated the drone to the Indian and Israeli Prime Ministers, and in 2020, “we did a successful demonstration and started working closely with Indian Army and CRPF. The device was tested by the Army and we recorded a great accuracy of 91 percent.”
Harshwardhan says that over 110 million active landmines are buried under the ground, and it will take around $33 billion to clear all the landmines across the globe, according to a UN report. And he plans to help the world. “I always wanted to make our planet a better place to live in,” he told BBC, and the 20-year-old is exactly doing that with Aerobotics7. In no time, it has established itself as one of India’s most innovative and purpose-driver drone companies, and now has its eyes set on the American market to build the best technology and make the world a safe place. “We partnered with PeaceJam Foundation in the US and under the mentor-ship of the Noble Peace Prize winner Jody Williams, we have launched a campaign called World Without Landmines. The mission is to remove all landmines across the world by 2025 and reclaim and re-imagine the land for agriculture and other purposes which can also contribute to fighting against climate change,” he told The Tribal Box.
- Follow Harshwardhan Zala on Linkedin