It would be unrealistic to expect buzzing drones hovering over buildings in India as a replacement for local courier delivery boys any time soon. But it may be sooner than you think as all eyes are certainly on the guidelines that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation is likely to issue for civilian use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

While we continue to see advertisements featuring drones, their use for all non-defence purposes has been strictly speaking illegal in India as the Directorate imposed a ban in 2014. For military purposes though, their deployment has been well documented since the Kargil war of 1999 and the country has, since then, considerably bolstered its fleet of reconnaissance and "killer" drones.

The Indian regulator is said to be working on a framework that would allow the civilian use of drones without compromising on safety, thus joining a select group of countries that have already notified provisional norms for such uses. Apart from the Directorate, however, clearances will also be required from the air navigation service provider, the ministries of defence and home affairs and other concerned agencies before we get to see drones employed in routine civilian use.

Here are five areas where they could be most effectively used.

Disaster relief
When the Uttarakhand faced torrential rains and severe flooding in the year 2013, a startup in India called Social Drones teamed up with 10 others and came to the rescue. The startup deployed unmanned quadcopters in the affected areas to conduct aerial surveillance and subsequently provided the images and videos to organisations working on flood relief to better target their efforts.

Not only this, the drones also assisted the volunteers by transferring some of their goods like medicines and first-aids kits to the top of the hills easing their weight on the steep trek.

Aerial surveillance
In a country as crowded as India, stampedes at religious or political gatherings is not unheard of and drones worldwide have proved useful in managing crowds efficiently by providing critical information in real time. Real time traffic management is an obvious area and even Gujarat Police used two indigenously built UAVs called Netra while Narendra Modi offered rituals before flagging off the Jagannath rath yatra. The drones were used to do aerial patrolling and clicking digital photographs to ensure security. Here’s a video of the Jagannath temple shot by drones.

Last-mile delivery
Even though Amazon’s plans to bring drone aided delivery to India was shot down by DGCA ban last year, drones may see a comeback by one of the e-commerce companies to ensure quicker delivery to their customers or just for a gimmick but the charm of seeing flying copters delivering goods can’t be resisted. This has already become a reality in Germany where drone-delivery pilots are underway by DHL Parcel which is using its Parcelcopter to deliver pharmaceuticals. Although DHL has found a small niche area of around 12 kilometers which is the only one being covered for now, it has raised hopes for last mile delivery to soon become a reality elsewhere too.  In our neighbourhood, Alibaba is testing tea delivery through drones in China. Here’s a video of the DHL drone at work.

Emergency rescue
While drones are commonly used in search operations by military as well as police departments in many countries, Canada became possibly the first country to save a man using a drone. The police used a small drone in May 2013 to locate and then treat an injured man who was lying undiscovered in a remote area after his car had flipped. The drone was mounted with cameras and sensors which picked up heat signals and successfully located the man in near freezing temperatures and the police was then able to rescue him. This could have a lot of potential use in India where road accidents are more than common and the interiors of the country are not as easily mapped as some of the major cities. Here’s a video of the operation.

Agricultural applications
Farming on difficult terrains comes with its own set of problems and drones are helping solve some of them. In California, commercial drones manufactured by Yamaha are being used for many agricultural purposes covering everything from keeping an eye on crop-eating bugs to spraying disinfectants. While Japan is said to be using these drones for more than a decade now, if the Indian  government allows the drones to be used for agricultural applications, Indian farmers could automate a lot of their tasks using these flying copters.