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  • Charl Jooste

Drones Being Used To Control and Combat COVID-19

Image: CNN

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest thing on everyone's mind right now. It is having devastating health, financial, emotional and other ramifications in most parts of the world. One may have seen drone footage of empty roads and towns or even seen a quirky video clip of people walking their dog using a drone but drones are being used for many important applications during these troubling times.

Let's take a look at some of the applications being used to great effect around the world.

Image: Getty Images/AFP/ANP/M. van Hoorin

Public broadcasts

Not all people have access to the news, the internet and social media. Drones fitted with loudspeakers have been used to inform and educate the public.

Crowd monitoring and control

Despite stringent lockdown rules in many areas, this is challenging, expensive and often dangerous to monitor. Drones can be used at a much lower cost and can be rapidly deployed over large areas with no risk to human life.

China, for example, used in excess of 1000 drones from MicroMultiCopter, a Shenzhen company, to do crowd observation and control in many of their cities. The drones were also able to see if people were taking precautions such as social distancing and the use of face masks.

Netherlands, Malaysia, Spain, India and many other areas have used drones for public announcements, monitoring and controlling public areas to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Many other countries are rapidly ramping up efforts to use this technology to help them with their challenges.

Checking temperatures

Taking this application a step further, there have been developments that allow drones to detect and report on people with a high temperature from the safety of the air. Many hospitals, buildings and apartment complexes are using this basic yet effective safety precaution. Doing it to the general public that is out is time-consuming, slow, costly and potentially dangerous to those doing the tests.

DJI is one of the companies that have developed a solution using infrared cameras and carefully calibrated equipment to identify potential problems. While such tests are not as accurate as a physical temperature reading done by a human, they provide useful data that can guide healthcare workers in where to concentrate their efforts and resources.

Remote disinfecting

There have been many instances where drones are used for disinfecting public areas. This is a safe, fast and economical to get this important job done. Again, leading drone company DJI is one of the manufacturers involved in developing these essential applications.

Drones have previously been used in agricultural applications to spray crops so this is not a giant leap but it is an extremely important and beneficial tweak to existing commercial drone applications. It is understood that the virus can survive for hours even days depending on the surface. Drones can quickly and safely disinfect large areas with speed, reaching areas that would be difficult for humans to get to. Correctly equipped, drones can cover up to 100,000 m2 per hour.

Image: Meee Services

Transport of critical and medical supplies

Drones have been employed in the past for the delivery of essential supplies as well as the transport and delivery of critical medical supplies and in some cases, the collection of tests. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has seen an increase in this vital area.

It allows for fast and inexpensive delivery especially in hard to reach or dangerous areas. It prevents human to human contact thereby lowering the health risk to all parties.

Tearra Drone, a Japanese company is one such example. They utilized drones to move supplies and medical requirements from the disease control center to a hospital in Xinchang County. This was the first time that the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration had issued an urban drone delivery license.

Similar exercises have been successfully conducted in the U.S. And elsewhere in the world where people are in need and resources are scarce. Time is often of the essence and the less human contact the better. Drones are the perfect solution for this challenge.

Legal and privacy issues

There have been many concerns over privacy issues and legal issues around some of the current drone applications. Many of the activities would never have been imagined a few months ago. The reality is that the situation is dire and anything that is effective in slowing the spread of the pandemic needs to be done.

Drones are fast, affordable and effective. They are able to perform many vital tasks without risk to human life. These are jobs that would normally have to be done by workers putting them at significant risk. They also have the advantage of being infinity faster than human efforts could hope to achieve.

Under the circumstances, the majority of people support the innovation and measures taken to protect them and their fellow citizens.

Another issue is the fact that these efforts need to be approved and monitored by the aviation authorities in the areas in which they operate. There has to be a logical and coordinated approach. While this is slowing progress down in some areas, most authorities have fast-tracked the process to get the much-needed assistance as safely and as quickly as possible.

Final thoughts

While a number of other technologies such as 3D printing, robotics and AI are being used to combat COVID-19 the main contribution has come from the commercial drone sector. The industry is fortunately in a steep growth phase and has already been used for a range of applications including inspections, deliveries, agriculture, law enforcement and humanitarian efforts, to name a few.

The significant threat posed by the pandemic has resulted in a number of companies, small and large, rapidly adapting existing applications and developing new ones. They are working closely with governments and other parties to increase the rate at which drones can assist in minimizing the effects of the pandemic.

At this stage, the immediate future of COVOID-19 is still uncertain and but there is no doubt that those trying to control and combat the pandemic need all the help and protection they can get. Thanks to the rapid innovation of many in the commercial drone industry, much is being done to assist.

Recent advancements will help us better cope with future threats and challenges.

By Charl Jooste


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