Top Banner

Will drones save the day amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

Over the past few years, there’s been much speculation about drones and whether they are an asset or a peril to society. However, when it comes to the recent pandemic which has taken the world by storm, drones are being used for the greater good of humanity.

Initially, drones were invented as a tool for combat, spying and even assassination. Many countries have restricted the use of this technology due to the debate on this issue. It is important to consider that while they can be used for nefarious military purposes, they can also be used as a force for good.

Drones hold the potential to do so much good in the world, and right now, the world could really use a powerful technology like this. Over the past few months, we have been struck with the coronavirus, COVID-19, which has essentially affected over 200,000 people worldwide. Those who have been infected by the virus are being placed in quarantine, while the rest of the world does their absolute best to avoid the virus by quarantining themselves, provided their government has not already advised them to do so. This has caused a decline in profits for businesses, salary cuts, redundancy and over 8,000 deaths.

The coronavirus has changed the way we interact with one another, has essentially fast-tracked the education sector into its digital revolution, causing a drastic change in the way our children are being educated, and has placed health authorities in a critical situation which has catapulted them into scientific discovery as a consequence of desperation.

While healthcare professionals study and develop cures and vaccines for COVID-19, there are a number of measures that can be taken to contain the epidemic. Over the past couple of months, the Chinese government has been experimenting with drones as a strategy to respond to the virus. This initiative could serve as an example to other countries to do the same.

For China, the beginning of 2020 was nothing short of a nightmare. The sudden outbreak of the coronavirus caused Chinese citizens to be overcome with fear and uncertainty. The outbreak, which first occurred in Wuhan, China, spread like wildfire across the entirety of the country and cost the lives of many.

Chinese cities joined forces to combat the pandemic and the Shenzhen MicroMultiCopter (MMC) was subsequently launched. The use of drones in the medical field decreased the risk of infection amongst medical staff.

In a statement last month, MMC stated that it will be deploying drones to ensure that people are taking proper precautions and following quarantine rules.

Aerial thermal sensing

Drones with built-in thermal cameras serve as a huge asset in containing the virus. Via high accuracy infrared, the drone can scan the temperature of each individual that passes. A great use-case for such drones is in highly dense areas, and as a result, eases onsite management and ensures greater efficiency in evacuation management as well.

Aerial broadcasting

One of the many possibilities presented by drones is the ability to carry out 360 degree patrols to observe the condition on land with 40x zoom cameras. An example of where this is if people are caught roaming the streets without a mask on, they can be dispersed by commanders through onboard megaphones.

In China, daily broadcastings are being carried out to reduce the risk of further infection.

Quarantine enforcement

Through aerial broadcasting, drones with loudspeakers can be used to direct individuals to stay at home. Officials in China have been using these drones to ensure residential lockdown to diminish the risk of person-to-person interaction, which would inherently help contain the virus from spreading.

Drone expert, Andy Miah, and author of ‘Drone: the Brilliant, the Bad and the Beautiful’, commented on the matter and said, “I think they’re an incredibly appealing tool for the law enforcement industry. The drone gives the police force a capacity to roam and be present in a way that no other means of movement have allowed in the past.”

Disinfectant spraying

China has been using the agility and speed of drones to spray disinfectant, covering a wide range of areas. The drones have been consistently disinfecting public areas such as schools, supermarkets and courtyards. This measure ensures that places where direct contact is most prevalent has been regularly disinfected, and it also raises awareness about the dangers of people-to-people interaction.

“What we’ve seen over the last five years is a growing deployment of drones in circumstances where we’d rather humans were not put at risk. While it makes a lot of sense, the kind of future that this presents us with is one where we use robots instead of humans in a whole range of circumstances, from military conflict to civilian policing,” said Miah.

Traffic control

MMC teams have been relentless in their efforts to liaise with traffic police to monitor traffic. The drones have helped commanders by easing decision-making, ensuring that the best possible solutions are devised as fast as possible.

In reference to the situation, a local traffic police officer commented, “Unlike previous years where we must drive to patrol and gather information, we can now discover everything using drones.”

Lu Zhihui, chairman of MMC, stated, “At first, our drones were used only in aerial broadcasting. It goes deeper to front-line use since the situation is getting more serious. Further functions are required so we quickly formed an online R&D team and carried out the solutions.”

According to Zhihui, MMC is absolutely committed to increasing the available level of automation in order to allow people to carry out their work with greater safety, at a relatively lower cost, with the utmost efficiency.

Transport of necessary supplies

Tech company, Antwork, parent company of Terra Drone, made us of drones to transport medical supplies and patient samples to hospitals and corona-hit areas. The company stated that drones are, in fact, 50 percent faster than road travel, which has been incredibly useful in this situation.

Terra Drone stated, “With more and more medical staff and ambulances being transferred to the frontline, in the case of extreme personnel shortage, the use of drone transportation can also save human and material resources.”

Drones were previously integrated into Rwanda and Ghana’s blood delivery chain.

“At the moment of life and death, the air transport network can significantly confine the flow of people, avoid unnecessary physical contact and prevent secondary transmission,” said Lv Yinxiang, secretary of the Party Committee of the County People’s Hospital.

He added, “Medical samples delivered through air can shrink the delivery time… while saving precious field resources.”

Not only will this be useful for the medical side of things, but also for consumer goods. Delivering consumer goods via drones will enable access to food and other necessary goods; hence, simplifying the lives of citizens. This is also in line with quarantine standards as it ensures further limitation of human contact.

This may seem like a dystopian nightmare for some, but changing our perspective and viewing it as an opportunity to save lives will serve us immensely as we battle this pandemic.