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Was 'Drone Prathap' bluffing?

The 23-year-old shot to fame, claiming he had developed advanced drones from old mixie and TV parts. Scientists weigh in on his ‘feats’
Last Updated : 17 August 2021, 07:06 IST

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When 23-year-old Prathap N M, hailing from a poor family in Mandya, declared that he had made 600 drones using parts from old mixer-grinders and televisions, he became a hero across Karnataka.

TV channels went to town with his story, portraying him as a genius who had won accolades and awards in Germany, Japan and a host of other countries.

In speech after speech, he claimed he had overcome impossible odds, carrying heavy weights on his shoulders to attend science conferences. He also said he had visited 87 countries and was offered jobs by various governments. Clearly, Prathap was a hero everyone loved to love.

Actor Jaggesh called him on a Colours TV show, and spoke effusively about his achievements. Many channels then picked up Prathap’s story, and painted a larger-than-life picture of his achievements.

A disillusioned Jaggesh is now saying he learnt a big lesson at the age of 57.

Prathap’s fame lasted a few weeks. Several people made contributions to encourage him. The pontiff of the Suttur math granted him Rs 8 lakh.

Eventually, when Prathap was asked to show the drones he had designed, he said that he was bound by patent concerns. The TV channels, which hadn’t done due diligence in the first place, got their knives out, and have now declared him a fraud.

View from academia

Drone scientists in Bengaluru say it was obvious that Prathap was exaggerating.

Desikan Srinivasan, senior vice president (drones), CyPhySignals India Pvt Ltd, who retired from the Indian Air Force, has 30-plus years of experience in the aviation industry. “I had heard about this boy and his claims. I came across articles on WhatsApp. However, I did not read them or verify any of the claims,” he says.

He believes people with no knowledge of design trivialise it. Just because children assemble a drone from a DIY kit, it does not mean that they have developed it, he says.

Drone technology is disruptive and has the potential to challenge many conventional engineering solutions. But it can also invade citizen privacy and result in loss of life, he warns. “The government is framing regulations to monitor and control this domain and rightly so,” he says.

Another senior scientist with the aerospace engineering department of the Indian Institute of Science says that when he heard Prathap’s claims, he realised they had "a lot of missing links".

Making a drone is a long-drawn-out process, explains Desikan Srinivasan. “Many modern commercial drones are built using carbon fibre structures which in many cases are hand-layered or 3D-printed. The electronics that go into it and the software are all customised and take time,” he says.

Quality matters

Dr S N Omkar, chief research scientist at the department of aerospace engineering, Indian Institute of Science, says that today flying a drone is no big deal, but the quality of research that goes into making it is what counts.

“Those who create drones should substantiate what they claimed to have designed. The key test to creating a fully operative drone is how well you can maximise the endurance range with the available power,” he says.

Specialised drones require specialised propelling systems. “We have experimented with creating drones with parts of grinders and televisions but these are not efficient and do not serve the purpose,” he says.

Dr V G Kiran Kumar, director of Vishal Infrastructure, encourages startups that make drones. “The most important consideration for development of a drone is the customer’s requirements. That is what determines payload (camera, megaphone),” he says.

Once a drone is developed, it is tested for vehicle behaviour and stability. “What follows is reliability testing at different sea levels and temperatures and in different wind conditions,” he explains.

What do they do?

Drones are used for multiple applications. As a hobby, it is fun to fly a drone. Drones are popular as a tool to extend range in photography (nature, wildlife, wedding receptions). They are also used for gathering intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance by the armed forces.

Where is Prathap?

Police have filed a case against Prathap for violating quarantine rules after coming into Bengaluru from Hyderabad. They say he was on the run and they nabbed him on Monday from a hotel in Mysuru. In a TV interview, Prathap said that he had moved into a flat, but the allegations that he had become rich overnight, were false. Police say they have received no cheating complaint against him from anyone. Metrolife called him repeatedly for this story but his phone was switched off.

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Published 21 July 2020, 15:03 IST

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