Covid-19 has caused some lasting effects in most sectors and drones are used to tackle covid-19 crisis which is highly contagious and can spread just by a simple touch.
Drone Technology have had to come up with ways to minimize contact between people while carrying out daily activities.
Many companies are using online meeting software, Artificial Intelligence, data science, and other technologies. Another innovation that is being utilized is drones.
Drones are being used to deliver medicine, vaccines, groceries within cities and even spraying and disinfecting the affected areas. However, the use of drones has some limitations, which, if addressed, can make them more useful in tackling Covid-19 and future pandemics.
Please keep reading to find out how exactly drones are being utilized, the challenges they face, and what can be done.
Delivering packages is one of the primary uses for drones in this pandemic era. According to this report, about 20 countries have already deployed delivery drones. For instance, in Chile, drones have been used to deliver medicine and other health-related materials to the elderly in Zapallar.
The Elderly are some of the most vulnerable people to Covid-19, so they are isolated in most areas. And drones come in handy in minimizing the contact this population has with other people.
China, where covid-19 first appeared, drones have been used to deliver medical supplies, masks, and even samples to speed up the testing for Covid-19.
In the United States, drones are used to deliver groceries, food, prescription medication, COVID tests, and even books.
Africa is not left behind in the utilization of drones for delivery. In Ghana and Rwanda, Zipline has been delivering PPES, testing kits, vaccines, and other medical supplies to the rural and inaccessible areas.
In most places where drones have been used, health officials take samples for testing and package them. These supplies are then taken to the drone ports by cars. And the drones then fly them to the labs.
Zipline confirmed that doing this cut down the transportation time by more than 50% compared to traditional transport methods.
Besides making it safer for all parties (the public, health workers, food companies, pharmacies, general stores, etc.), drone delivery has also provided an economic lifeline.
Due to lockdowns, most businesses have been closed. But drone delivery ensures that companies keep running.
Just like agricultural drones are used to spray pesticides in farms, drones have been deployed to spray disinfectants in the UAE, Chile, Colombia, Indonesia, Philippines, South Korea, and Spain.
Drones are practical in such a case because they can cover more ground within a shorter time than people or vehicles doing it manually.
They are also safer since people will not come into contact with the infected areas. Drones can also be automated to follow a particular path and spray at a specific rate. However, they may not be the best for spraying inside buildings.
Surveillance and Monitoring:
To prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, governments had to ban gatherings, require people to wear masks, and even lock down various regions partially or fully. And to make sure people followed these rules, they sometimes use law enforcement.
Drones have been instrumental in helping monitor the civilians and disperse sections of populations that attempted to gather.
Some countries even attached a loudspeaker to the drones and used them to remind people to stay safe and follow the regulations.
Here is a good example of law enforcement officers using loudspeakers to remind people to observe social distance and wear masks in China.
Other countries that have used drones for monitoring and awareness include India, Sierra Leone, the USA, Italy, China, UK, and Rwanda.
Detecting the Virus:
Drones are not applicable in delivery and monitoring, but they are also helpful in sensing the virus when coupled with the right equipment.
In China, drones are used to measure one’s temperature using Infrared sensors. High body temperature is one of the symptoms of Coronavirus.
Taking people to the field to measure everyone’s temperature can be time-consuming and can further spread the virus.
But drones make it safer, and it takes less time. Here is a video on Twitter of how this works. To prevent contact, the health worker would stand at the building’s base and deploy the drone.
The occupants of the buildings would then stand on their balcony for the temperature measurement.
Draganfly, a Canadian company, also joined hands with the University of Southern Australia to develop a ‘Pandemic Drone’.
This is a drone that measures temperature and detects respiratory issues such as sneezing or coughing, using advanced sensors computer vision.
These drones are to be deployed in public places such as airports, bus stations, and events to detect anyone with the virus within a 10-Metre radius.
Land Surveying and Construction:
Due to the fast spread of the virus, the existing hospitals are often overwhelmed. Governments have had to build temporary hospitals on dormant land to deal with new cases.
Drones are useful in surveying this land and even providing support such as lighting during the construction of the hospitals.
Drones are excellent surveying tools since you can use RTKs, PPKs, or any other surveying equipment on them. They also take less time to survey land compared to traditional methods.
China is one country that has utilized drones for this purpose. They used drones to provide lighting 24/7 to ensure a construction project goes on uninterrupted.
This may not be directly related to the coronavirus crisis since drones have been used in agriculture for a long time, but they will come in handy, especially post-crisis.
Drones are applicable in precision farming, detecting crop diseases using multispectral sensors, and even spraying insecticides.
This goes a long way in improving crop production and can help alleviate the food crisis that the pandemic may cause.
What Are the Challenges Faced by Drone Technology in Tackling the Covid-19 Crisis?
While drones seem to have played a part in how the world is adapting to Covid-19 and future contagious respiratory diseases, some hurdles limit their utilization. Below are some of them.
It’s not clear how exactly drones have minimized the spread of Covid-19, but one thing’s for sure, the countries that have successfully rolled out drones had their environment set up for drones long before the Covid-19 crisis.
So, when the Coronavirus started spreading, it was easy for them to start using drones in their response strategy. Drones have not been rolled out in more countries because of the regulations in place.
In countries like the United States, the FAA didn’t have clear rules that allowed drones to deliver medical supplies or deliver other packages.
Regulations such as how high a drone can fly, where a drone should fly (drones aren’t allowed in airports), and even how far you can fly the drone from the controller are some of the regulations in the USA and other countries. It’s next to impossible to roll out a drone delivery service with such limitations.
Lack of supplies:
Even in countries where there’s a functional drone environment, if there’s inadequacy of PPEs and other necessary items necessary for tackling Covid-19, the drones will be useless.
Drones are not a full-proof solution. They are an added advantage that wouldn’t be effective on its own. For instance, a regular drone can barely last an hour without needing to recharge.
Most drones are not equipped to carry heavy loads, making them only useful for smaller packages. The drones used for deliveries are specially designed, but they are also quite expensive.
Drones can also barely operate in harsh weather conditions such as rainy days, windy, and snowy days. A combination of drones and traditional transport methods works best.
Lack of Trained Personnel:
Flying a drone isn’t that complicated. But knowing where to use it, when to use it, and how to measure its performance is not that straightforward.
And unfortunately, not every region has the necessary skilled personnel to match a drone and an appropriate use case. The only aspect that proves drones are useful is the shortening of the delivery time.
Drones should be used more and more to come up with conclusive results about their usefulness.
Privacy Invasion Fears:
Many people are afraid of drones flying over them due to fears that they are being spied on or the drones have been sent to steal data.
We can’t blame them since DJI, one of the largest drone companies in the world has been faced with privacy invasion issues.
And there have been reports about drones hovering and spying around people’s homes. If the authorities can develop regulations that protect civilians and assure them that drone usage is safe, they can be helpful in more use cases.
Researchers found a vulnerability in an android app that controls drones made by China-based Da Jiang Innovations
What should be done?
Below are some strategies that can help;
- To ensure the use of drones in response to Covid-19 is successful, the users should find a way to match their capabilities to a use case and find ways to minimize contact between people.
- A drone-friendly environment should be set up. For instance, FAA and other regulatory bodies can create a “highway” for drones, preferably along traditional roads. This makes it easier to combine both methods.
- Policies that allow countries to collaborate in using drones by sharing technology and ideas in tackling diseases, agriculture, and other sectors should also be set up. The rest of the world has a lot to learn from how countries like China, Rwanda, and India utilize drones.
- Awareness and training programs can help teach locals about the importance of drones and how to use them.
While the current environment is not the best for drones, they have already found their place in helping tackle the Covid-19 crisis.
Now, Covid-19 may not end any time soon. During writing this, cases are increasing tremendously every day.
Now it’s up to the governments and relevant stakeholders to develop regulations, policies, and strategies that will allow drones to work within their airspace to deal with the coronavirus crisis, post-crisis, and even future diseases.