Drones on Covid-19 fight flight

As the world continues to unite in its efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19, government officials are working closely with private sector organisations to adopt new technologies and maintain well being. 

DJI, a leading company in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, in conjunction with departments across China, has deployed drones for known public safety applications and has even discovered new ways drones can be deployed to combat viruses altogether. 

Bahrain has already employed drones in its fight against Covid-19, with police personnel using drones equipped with loudspeakers in heavily populated areas in Manama to enforce social distancing rules. Traffic authorities have also started using them to educate cyclists and pedestrians about adhering to regulations.

As remotely piloted devices, drones are naturally effective at minimising human interactions, crucial to safeguard communities. DJI has used drones in four ways: to facilitate communication, disinfect areas, deliver supplies and measure body temperatures.

  • Inspection and Broadcast

In search and rescue missions across the globe – from spanning deserts to towering cliffs – drones have become powerful tools to visualise expansive areas and communicate in complex environments.

These same capabilities have been critical to oversee and communicate in dense, urban areas during the Covid-19 outbreak. With drones, officers can more efficiently scan an area and broadcast a message, such as instructing residents to put their masks on, or to remain indoors – all while keeping officials away from close contact with potentially infected people.

  • Delivery of Critical Supplies

Seeing the risk of a pandemic, local governments have often encouraged citizens to limit their exposure and remain in their homes. This has put strain on package and food delivery systems, which are themselves a potential vector of contamination. While drone package deliveries are not at full scale yet – with only a few prior global tests in countries such as US and the Dominican Republic, they have proven to be an efficient and contactless way to deliver critical medical supplies.

Most drones can be easily modified with a payload drop mechanism to deliver packages of up to 6kg, without risk to either party. This is particularly important in areas where the presence of the virus is confirmed, such as hospitals actively treating the virus.

  • Disinfecting Common Areas

While more information about the virus is being discovered and released by officials around the world, there is evidence that the virus may survive on hard surfaces (i.e. chairs, tables), anywhere from just a few hours to several days. This makes public spaces previously occupied by those infected, such as buses, parks, etc., a potential risk to others.

In an effort to disinfect public spaces and prevent the further spread of COVID-19, local health authorities have tested out ways to deploy agriculture spraying drones to disinfect these areas more efficiently. Previously used for agriculture, these spraying drones are filled with disinfectants instead of pesticides, and are operated to spray the entire public area.

While the effectiveness of this new disinfection process is yet to be measured in a rigorous way, the speed and area covered in the process is unparalleled. Spraying drones can cover 100,000sqm in an hour with a spraying tank of 16L.

  • Temperature Check

Many public and private buildings check visitors’ temperatures before admitting them into the building. This has proven to be a simple, yet effective measure to screen for potentially infected persons, as a key symptom of the virus is a high fever.

While the process has proven effective overall, it has one risk point – the personnel conducting the temperature checks. As they traditionally measure each person with a handheld infrared thermometer, they may come into close contact with the virus and become a spreader themselves.

To limit this one risk point, some teams are using drones equipped with infrared cameras to test temperature measurements. While these drones are commonly used for public safety operations or inspections, with proper calibration, these drones can instead help measure body temperature.

DJI’s engineering teams tested different ways to calibrate airborne infrared cameras to measure body temperature. Results showed that by installing a cotton swab within the field of view of the thermal camera, the camera can get an accurate reading.

The calibrated drone camera can then be used to measure body temperatures while the officer remains at a safe distance away. While the results are encouraging, it is essential to mention this solution is not designed to be used for standard medical procedures, and to get usable data, the calibration process must follow the procedure strictly.

While drones have become commonplace in industries such as construction, film production and public safety, these stories are a signal that drones are likely to become a common tool across the healthcare industry as well, innovating to maintain well being around the world.

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