Innovating In the Time of COVID-19: Using Drones to Stop the Viral Spread

Alphabet’s Wing drones are delivering food, medicine, and household goods. Image courtesy: AP

Even before the coronavirus outbreak impacted every aspect of our daily lives, drones were making significant technological breakthroughs in a wide variety of industries, from their use in retail to their increasing adoption by industrial and manufacturing firms.

But as hospitals, companies, and municipalities learn how to operate under new social-distancing guidelines, drones have become even more useful and are being used for a number of unique tasks. These include:

  • Conducting site surveys for solar installations. Companies requiring a full survey of an install site can now use drones to identify and map chimneys, vents, or other penetrations that might impede or prevent installation while maintaining a safe distance from residents within the home.
  • Educating residents of rural South African communities about Covid-19 preventive measures while monitoring potential hot spots within the same areas. Drones make announcements via loudspeakers as they pass overhead, switching between the local languages of Tsonga and Sepedi.
  • Disinfecting hot-spot high-infection areas using UVC lights. This is being done by a drone made by Digital Aerolus that damages the DNA or RNA of a pathogen, thus destroying it. The drone is operated remotely to protect the operator both from the dangerous UVC light and from possible pathogens.
  • Delivering food using Alphabet’s Wing drone delivery service. This service is available in limited markets around the world, including Australia, Finland, and Virginia. Deliveries arrive in as little as a few minutes.
  • Limiting travel across borders and within cities. Companies like KazUAV in Kazakhstan have used drones to remotely monitor their closed-down borders and cities to combat viral spread.
  • Delivery of test samples, medication, and PPE. Several partnerships between the NCDOT and private partners are leading to initiatives to deliver PPE, medication, and other important medical tests via drone.
  • Pollination of crops. In response to the COVID-related labor shortage, Israeli date farmers in the Jordan Valley turned to drones to pollinate their crops by air.

Additionally, Westport Connecticut initially planned on using drones by maker Draganfly fitted with temperature sensors to identify residents with elevated body temperatures or those who were exhibiting other signs of infection like heavy coughing, but the plan was scrapped after concerns about privacy. However, this kind of technology was used in other locations around the world including in China’s Liaoning Province.

Other uses of Drones during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Drones have also been used during this time to capture changes occurring in our cities and on the Earth. This includes footage of dugongs (marine mammals that are similar to manatees)cruising off the coast of Libong Island near Thailand, videos of empty city streets and centers, videos of sea turtles thriving on empty beaches, and footage showing startling changes in water and air quality.

Some people have even used drones to walk their dogs during coronavirus lockdowns.

This pandemic is certainly not the first time drone technology has been used in a time of crisis or to fight against disease. In fact, the same technology that has been implemented disinfect city centers around the world using spray technology had previously been planned to combat malaria on the island of Zanzibar.

As we continue to adapt to this new distanced normal, drone technology is certain to be an important part of that world.