As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) spreads across the globe, technology has stepped up to provide means for the rest of the world to somewhat go on with their lives. The latest innovations in communication, computing, and transportation allow us to continue with our daily routines, including work and personal business. But more than that, technology also stands in the frontlines of the fight against the deadly 21st century disease.
From biotech and big data to robots, 3D printers, and artificial intelligence, the tech industry is pulling out all the stops to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 as well as respond to the immediate and long term needs of those affected. One of these key innovations taking the spotlight is drone technology.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that can be controlled remotely or fly autonomously through software-specified flight paths. Initially, drones found use in military surveillance. However, recent developments made drones available for commercial and private use, including rescue, delivery, and photography and videography, among others.
During these challenging times, drones have taken on a whole new role of providing service and solutions to the current world health crisis. Many government and private institutions have incorporated drones in their system. They use these aircraft to deliver goods and services, detect symptoms, disinfection, and more.
One way drones are used to fight the coronavirus is to spray disinfectant in public spaces. Without the need to deploy human personnel on the ground, authorities can ensure that places like the market, transport station, and other areas with high foot traffic remain virus-free.
Here in the Philippines, the Pasig City government recently procured three units of DJI MG-1P as part of their precautionary measures against COVID-19. Pasig City uses the DJI octocopter drones used to disinfect the whole city. These misting drones can carry up to 10 liters of disinfecting solutions and can cover about 300 meters of distance. Reportedly costing P1 million each, the DJI drones were originally used in China to spray pesticide in farms.
Another efficient use of drones is through thermal scanning. These unmanned vehicles help government officials and authorities to identify people with elevated body temperature (which could indicate they have the virus)–without the risk of exposing themselves to the disease.
In Marikina City in the Philippines, the local government deployed a drone in its public market as an added measure to the enhance community quarantine imposed all over Luzon. The drone, a DJI Enterprise 2 Mavic Dual, comes equipped with a thermal scanner and a speaker.
Crowd monitoring & traffic control
Shenzen company MicroMultiCopter provided over 100 drones to various cities in China to patrol areas, observe crowds, and monitor traffic. Most drones have a 360-degree vision and zoom cameras, allowing them to patrol ground conditions from high up. Authorities can now easily identify individuals who are not following regulations imposed by the government. This includes large crowd gathering or not wearing masks in public spaces.
In France and Spain, the authorities use drones to help enforce its lockdown. These flying robots monitor parks and public spaces to make sure people are not leaving their homes for unnecessary trips. Private company Drone 06, which specializes in aerial photography, offered their services to the law enforcement of Nice in France. The company provided small drones, each weighing 800 grams and measures 30cm in diameter.
Mobile broadcast system
In addition to crowd monitoring and traffic control, drones are also being deployed as a mobile broadcast system. Thanks to their size and maneuverability, drones can cover larger area than traditional loudspeakers can. This makes it easier to issue daily broadcast even in inaccessible areas because the streets are narrow.
The Northamptonshire Police in the U.K. plans to increase their fleet of drones. They plan to equip their small copters with speakers to broadcast public information messages and reminders to not leave homes.
Drones are also being used speed up transport of goods, reliefs, medical supplies, and test kits and results. The biggest advantage this offers is that it does not expose human delivery drivers to any risks.
In China, Japanese company Terra Drone utilize their UAVs to safely transport medical supplies from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention to hospitals in need. Still in China, e-commerce company JD deployed a drone team to ensure on-time delivery of ordered goods to its customers.
The ongoing battle against COVID-19 paves the way for government institutions and private organizations to see the necessity of investing in the latest technological advances like drone technology. Plus, it also demands our leaders and authorities to remain constantly prepared and willing to innovate.