Infiltrators beware: Autonomous rovers, drones may soon be safeguarding India’s border

Anand Murali May 24, 2017 7 min

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.

On the fence

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.

Kavach comprises poles fitted with lasers and infrared-based sensors to detect any intrusions between them. The poles are placed 200m apart. Image: Cron Systems

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.

Drones to soldiers’ aid

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  

“If an intrusion happens, this vehicle will automatically leave for the intrusion space to inspect the area and assist the soldier. The integration is near complete and we are awaiting confirmation to begin live trials,” adds Chhabra.

For drone integration, the company has tied up with Israel-based drone manufacturer Aerodrome.

Big data on the border

Another product the company is currently piloting at the border is its Control and Command(C&C) platform called Micron, which can work with any third-party sensor system more or less like a plug-and-play system to help collect and analyse data from it.

“We wanted to avoid the need for multiple screens to monitor various sensor systems as it can get tiring and stressful at times. Once the Micron black box is deployed, all sensors can plug into them and can be monitored on a single system,” says Chhabra.

Once an intrusion is detected, a message is sent to the base console unit, called the quick response tool, which prompts the on-duty soldier to take action with two options — ‘Secure’ or ‘SOS’. Image: Cron Systems

He feels like any other industry, data collection and analysis are essential at the border as logging the movement of troops in the border areas is a long and tedious manual process.

Chhabra feels that data collection and analysis are essential at the border as logging the movement of troops in the border areas is a long and tedious manual process  

“The BSF keeps a written log of everything that happens at the gates; how many times, how many soldiers pass by etc. This data is important to them and they go through it in case something goes wrong. So, we integrated Micron to help monitor these gates and collect data and analyse it,” he says.

Kavach and Micron are also in the process of being prepared for pilots at other border regions of India.

Beyond the borders

Cron Systems is also looking at areas and markets beyond the borders. “We are doing a pilot in Malaysia to secure one of their crucial buildings and we also have a pilot coming up in Germany for securing an airport,” says Chhabra.

The company is also in the process of developing autonomous tactical vehicles for the army to use in border areas with difficult terrain.

Earlier in February, the company had raised a pre-series A funding from YourNest India Fund.

India is among the top 10 countries when it comes to defence expenditure. The defence budget for 2017-18 is marked at Rs 2.74 lakh crore.

In the 2016-17 Budget, the government introduced a new category of Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured products to encourage participation of private companies in the defence sector  

In the 2016-17 Budget, the government introduced a new category of Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured products to encourage participation of private companies in the defence sector.

Many other startups are helping the Indian defence forces secure the border and combat terrorists. Tonbo Imaging is developing thermal imaging systems and scopes, Mumbai-based Ideaforge is building drones for the defence forces and med-tech startup Axiostat has developed a haemostatic dressing that helps stop severe bleeding for the combat forces.

Last week, The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by defence minister Arun Jaitley finalised the broad outline of a “strategic partnership” policy aimed at major corporates and the MSME sector for manufacturing high-tech defence equipment in India, thereby improving self-reliance and ingenuity in defence.

Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira

Images: Cron Systems


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