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How Drones can be Used to Fight COVID-19

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

As nations worldwide continue to fight the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many in government and private enterprises have greatly expanded the usage of drones to help eradicate the virus while also minimizing transmission risks among their peoples. In this article, we will explore real-life drone scenarios used in several countries centered around enforcement, prevention and logistics

Credit: DJI, China

Enforcement

Over half the world’s population is considered living in urban areas with densities reaching into the thousands per km2. In addition, globalization has made travel far easier and borders that much more porous. Because of these factors, novel infections can explode into epidemics with much more ferocity.

However, when equipped with drones, authorities can visualize expansive areas and communicate safety protocols to a wider audience quickly and effectively. In China, such drone patrols were used to broadcast messages while surveilling high-rises and open country for violation of protocols. They have been used to warn people regarding curfews, dissuade them from public gatherings and even flew banners for motivation.

Credit: Garuda Aerospace, Chennai, India

Prevention

Necessity is the mother of innovation. The demand for drones has skyrocketed during the pandemic with companies big and small integrating the technology to meet their local client’s needs. India’s city streets tend to be haphazard and highly congested. Because of this, they have repurposed agriculture drones to spray disinfectant and minimize the risks to sanitation workers.

Even when operating day and night, the drones themselves find it hard to navigate the labyrinth especially within open markets and slum-areas. Another innovative idea was to use drones for aerial inspection and planning. In New Delhi, drones equipped with thermal sensors can check the temperature of individuals remotely. This allowed police to deploy manpower resources accordingly and better manage ever-evolving outbreaks.

Credit: Artist Render, zozi009

Logistics

At the onset of the pandemic, minimizing human contact was the priority. This inadvertently caused massive shocks to supply chains worldwide, demand for delivery services far outpaced the supply of drivers. Early adopters of drones were able to leverage their position and prosper their business despite the restrictions and market conditions.

One example is Irish restaurant chain Camile Thai. Camile with their partners Just Eat and Manna became the first in Europe to successfully complete aviation-grade drone trials right before Europe’s outbreak. Proving that drone deliveries can be safely completed, governments quickly allowed usage of them in transporting more crucial items such as medicine, protective gear and test kits.


This recognition that the utility of drones outweighs potential risks has accelerated regulatory exemptions and approvals. In the U.S., Amazon, UPS and Google’s Wing received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for their drone delivery operations, essentially treating their drone fleets as small airlines. Under these circumstances, drones will perhaps be the standard of last-mile logistics in the near future.


The fight against COVID-19 rages on but with vaccines being developed in labs across the world, the next logistical challenge would be to deliver and administer them for the population. We hope drone operators worldwide will impart their knowledge and experience from this crisis to help prepare for future medical, humanitarian, disaster response and relief missions.


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