The COVID-19, a global pandemic that caused more than 164,000 deaths and infected more than 2 million people worldwide, make us rethink how governments, organizations, and societies around the world can work with minimum or without physical contact. Today, the frontline warriors and heroes of the nation are doctors, medical staff, local police, and private security guards and refuse collectors. Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, GIS and Mapping, Location Technology and autonomous machines are playing a growing role in responding to COVID-19 pandemic. However, in this war against this invisible enemy, drones play a key role by helping authorities and people in different ways to prevent further spread of the coronavirus outbreak. Let’s look at how drones are being used effectively to combat COVID-19.
An important policy for authorities across the globe right now is to prevent the spread of the virus. To ensure they are taking unprecedented measures to reduce people-to-people contact. Most countries took measures like the closure of non-essential public places, ban of mass gatherings and ensuring a social distancing to limit physical contact.
However, in some areas where individuals are not complying with the restrictions knowingly or unknowingly, or do not know what the latest restrictions are, law enforcing authorities such as the local police or municipal authorities are using drones to monitor people’s movement and break up social gatherings that could pose a risk to society. The introduction of drones at this time of crisis is reducing the risk of getting infected to police officials and other staff since it enables monitoring vast swathe of area without physical engagement.
However, the use of drones for surveillance raises a debate about privacy and individual rights on mainstream media as well as social media platforms.
In addition to street surveillance, authorities are also using drones to broadcast messages and information about lockdown measures, especially an in rural area that lacks open communication channels for health information. Drones equipped with loudspeakers are used to make public announcements to keep people indoors, take necessary precautions, make social-distancing and wear a mask if stepping outside from home. China and many European countries are using drones for broadcasting messages to public.
A Global Times video on twitter shows a drone hovering over a village in Inner Mongolia, warning old lady with audio in Chinese “Yes grandmother, it’s the drone who is talking to you. You should not go out without wearing a mask. You’d better go home and don’t forget to wash your hands,”
Walking around without a protective face mask? Well, you can’t avoid these sharp-tongued drones! Many village and cities in China are using drones equipped with speakers to patrol during the #coronavirus outbreak. pic.twitter.com/ILbLmlkL9R
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) January 31, 2020
To disinfect public spaces and prevent the further spread of COVID-19, health authorities are deploying agriculture spray drones to carry out tasks like spraying disinfectant in potentially affected areas. These spraying drones are filled with disinfectants and can cover much more ground in less time and 50 times faster than traditional methods. According to DJI, the world’s largest drone maker company, a spraying UAV can carry around 16 Litre of disinfectant and cover 100,000 sq meter area in an hour.
These drones are easy to operate, inexpensive and can be quickly mobilized, in addition to reducing the risk of health and sanitation workers getting exposed to both the virus and the disinfectant. In addition to China, countries like India, Indonesia, Philippines, Colombia, Chile, and the UAE have successfully used disinfecting drones to control the spread of coronavirus. In Europe, Spain was the first country to use agriculture drones for disinfecting large public places.
Medicine and Grocery Deliveries
Doctors and hospitals need medical supplies and laboratory testing more than ever, and drones are the safest and fastest ways to deliver medical supplies and transport samples from hospitals to laboratories. In Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, a drone is used to deliver medical supplies in the hospital. This technology not only speeds up delivery of essential medical supplies and samples but also reduces the risk of exposure to medical staff and making a major difference in efforts to combat the disease.
Apart from medical supplies, drones are also being used as delivering groceries in some parts of China, the US, and Australia. In the US, Alphabet Inc.’s Wing has seen an increase in the number of drone deliveries in Christiansburg, Virginia after the coronavirus outbreak. These become particularly useful in red zones where outside physical contact should be minimum.
During the peak of the epidemic in China, authorities were carrying out large-scale remote temperature measurement in most apartment complexes through the drones. Since people were worried of catching the infection, to avoid the face to face contact, Chinese authorities used drones equipped with infrared cameras to measure the temperature of people who was lockdown in their houses.
In one of the videos uploaded on social media, the drone can be seen rising to the windows of a building and taking people’s temperatures when they open their windows.
Fear physical contact amid the #CoronavirusOutbreak? How about having your temperature taken by a drone? At Zhangjiashan community in E China’s Jiangxi, you only need to stand on your balcony for a temperature check. pic.twitter.com/zU5lqWljxd
— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) February 3, 2020
In several countries including China, Germany, and the United States, empty fields have been converted into temporary hospitals to ease the pressure on hospitals that are already functioning at full capacity. Drones are helping governments in surveying those areas and build more efficiently and with minimal human involvement.
In Wuhan, drones were also used as a light source in the construction site of a temporary hospital. A construction company, Geek Bridge International has used six lighting drones, hovers 50 meters above the ground. The lightning range of drones can cover area up to 6,000 square meters and can be continuously illuminated for 10 hours on a single charge.