Autonomous Rovers, Drones May Soon Be Safeguarding India’s Border

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New Delhi: In the dark of the night, they move in stealth. Armed with guns and tactical gear, they tread through tough, desolate terrain. They are cross-border infiltrators looking for unguarded zones along India’s border.

An empty patch is in sight; no guards and no wired fencing. Too good to be true? They decide to make a dash for it. The first of them crosses over; suddenly the others realise it indeed was too good to be true. Two six-wheel rovers — a rover is a small vehicle that can be used over rough terrain — armed and ready with weapons are aimed at them. Hovering over them are drones, watching their every move. It’s game over for the intruders!

Seems like a scene playing out from a movie or a video game, right? Well, soon this might be a reality, thanks to Delhi-based startup Cron Systems, which is developing a perimeter security system for protecting India’s borders.

“What we do is automate perimeter security. We create a barrier so when anyone comes through, we get to know there’s been an intrusion and the system responds accordingly” — Tushar Chhabra, CEO and cofounder, Cron Systems

“What we do is automate perimeter security. We create a barrier so when anyone comes through, we get to know there’s been an intrusion and the system responds accordingly,” says Tushar Chhabra, CEO and cofounder of Cron Systems.

The company was founded in 2015 by Chhabra, Saurav Agarwala, and Tommy Katzenellenbogen, who also served as a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. It counts the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Indian Army among its clients.

India has a land border of over 15,106km running through 92 districts and across 17 states bordering Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan and Afghanistan. The 3,323-km stretch that India shares with Pakistan is one of the most sensitive sections, with frequent intrusions. Fencing the entire stretch has been a challenge due to the difficult terrain and weather conditions.

Kavach, developed by Cron Systems, is a laser and infrared-based fencing system that is weatherproof and can be implemented in all kinds of terrain. The system comprises poles that are placed 200m apart — five poles for a 1km stretch. There are differently designed poles for curves and bends. The poles are fitted with lasers and infrared-based sensors to detect any intrusions between them.

Once an intrusion is detected, a message is immediately sent to the base console unit, called the QRT (quick response tool). The soldier at the base is then presented with two options on the device display — ‘Secure’ or ‘SOS’. ‘Secure’ is to be selected if the soldier verifies the incident as a false positive. The ‘SOS’ option alerts the command base of the intrusion and also gives a further option to describe the intrusion.

Kavach, developed by Cron Systems, is a laser and infrared-based fencing system that is weatherproof and can be implemented in all kinds of terrain. According to Chhabra, like any such system, Kavach is not 100% foolproof. There’s a certain number of false positives that occur, but the company is trying to keep the tolerance for such false positives very low.

“Our biggest problem is pigs as their shape and size is similar to someone crawling on all fours,” says Chhabra, who spends a lot of his time at the border monitoring the system and helping with new installations. The company is currently piloting the system at the Samba sector in the Jammu frontier.

The fences are interconnected and communicate with their base terminal via Cronnet, a virtual communication network that works on military grade encryption, developed inhouse by Cron.

The fences are interconnected and communicate with their base terminal via Cronnet, a virtual communication network that works on military grade encryption, developed inhouse by Cron

Getting power in the border area is not a problem — the area is so well lit that the lighting can be seen even from space. But as a safety and precautionary measure, Kavach has a built-in power backup and management system that can keep the fence up and running for over eight hours without external power. The next iteration of Kavach will also include LIDAR (light detection and ranging) units that will give it better situational awareness on activities in its surroundings.

Cron Systems has also developed a system to help respond to the intrusion using autonomous vehicles and drones. The company has tied up with Israel-based manufacturer Automotive Robotic Industry (ARI), which makes all-terrain and weatherproof automated rovers called Amstaff. These rovers are capable of being fitted with anything from a firehose, to a taser, to even weapons, depending on the requirement. Cron Systems has also developed a system to help respond to the intrusion using autonomous vehicles and drones

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