Only halfway in and 2020 has already marked a turning point for humankind. With the onset of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, almost the entire world has come to a screeching halt as everyone grapples with the pandemic and looks for solutions. While the virus has brought on a global crisis, it has brought with it a surge in the use of technology. Not only are people turning to their devices for information and socialization, but governments and law enforcement are also employing technology now more than ever to help battle COVID-19. One such method at the forefront of this battle is drone technology.
With COVID-19 being a highly contagious disease with no known cure, the key to containment, as reported by Medical News Today, is social distancing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) thus recommends keeping a space of (minimum) 6 feet between you and other people to prevent the spread of infection and slow down community contagion. COVID-19 can be spread through contact, and even those with no visible symptoms can still be carriers and transmitters of the virus, making the case for minimal human contact whenever possible. This is where drone technology comes in. With no human contact needed, drones are now performing crowd-control duties to enforce social distancing and to encourage people to stay home to slow the spread.
While the global non-military drone market was already expected to triple in sales to $14.3 billion over the next decade, the pandemic has now highlighted the use of drones even further. As more people opt into drone technology, it’s important to know and follow the rules and regulations of drone flying set by each country and region. This article by Dronegenuity proves extremely helpful, providing a framework of the current drone regulations across the globe including height limitations, permits, and licenses, so people can optimize how they use their drones within approved guidelines.
Drones in the Fight Against Covid-19
While drones have been used for personal, military, and business reasons before, the advent of the epidemic has seen more creative and beneficial uses of drone technology.
Broadcasting and Inspection
With lockdowns and quarantines being enforced across the globe, it’s hard to have law enforcement workers perform non-contact crowd control. The first evidence of drones being used to take over these duties came from China, with speaker-equipped drones patrolling the streets encouraging people to wear their masks or go home. In April, amidst a nation-wide lockdown, the government of Mumbai, Maharashtra also used drones to monitor crowds and to ensure social distancing guidelines in the city’s COVID-19 hotspots. The same was done in France and the state of New Jersey, with drones being used to broadcast messages of awareness and instruction.
Disinfecting Public Spaces
It is now known that the coronavirus COVID-19 can survive on hard surfaces from a few hours to several days. This makes public spaces such as transportation hubs, parks, and restaurants very unsafe, especially for at-risk patients who already have medical complications. Complications can range from old age and diabetes to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While Breo can be used to treat the latter, contracting COVID-19 when suffering from these underlying complications can put a patient at even higher risk.
To slow the spread of the virus, health authorities are looking for the most efficient ways to disinfect public spaces and are experimenting with the use of agricultural spraying drones to aerially sanitize city streets. While the efficacy of this method hasn’t been officially tested, DJI reports that in terms of speed and area, spraying drones could be the ones for the job, with the ability to cover 100,000m2/ hour with 16-liter tanks.
Delivery of Supplies
With limited movement and business supply chains on pause, the distribution of supplies has faced dire consequences the world over. Food, medical and e-commerce deliveries have all suffered, and those working in a delivery service could be potential transmitters of the virus themselves. An article on the World Economic Forum reports how drones could be helping to solve this crisis, especially in vast countries and difficult-to-reach rural areas. The San-Fransisco based company Zipline has successfully delivered medicine to rural communities in Ghana and Rwanda. This success story paves the way for drones to perform even more non-contact deliveries, especially of essential supplies to areas that are containment zones.
As most countries try to amp up testing, one of the most effective methods to limit the spread of COVID-19 is a simple temperature check of individuals before people enter crowded places like essential workplaces, hospitals, or supermarkets. The issue here, however, is that personnel conducting the test risk being infected or transmitting the disease due to such close contact. In China, drones have been a popular solution, being mobilized with fever-detection capabilities to gauge body temperatures with no contact.
The Future of Healthcare
If the pandemic has proven anything, it is that healthcare systems across the world are overburdened and understaffed and have an increasing reliance on technology. As future healthcare workers pursue their education in Public Healthcare, it is fair to assume that the healthcare systems will slowly but surely integrate drone technology as an aid to control and cure medical issues.
While drones have often been associated with a dystopian 1984-Orwell-Esque future, their use in this pandemic has proven that they here to stay and can help humankind overcome global emergencies.