Drone Solutions for COVID19

It is generally believed that every crisis brings with it several hidden opportunities. COVID-19 is no different. The crisis is here and it is killing people and changing lives like never before. It is time for everyone to think how best they can contribute. While most people in the world can contribute hugely by simply staying at home and following the Safety Guidelines laid out thus breaking the chain of transmission, there are those of us who can contribute in a different way by leveraging new technologies. This blogpost talks about the various Drone Solutions for COVID19.

Drones have been used for recreational and various commercial applications across the world in the past few years. In the wake of COVID-19, Drones are more important than ever. Compiling the applications we could think of and those proposed by others, following is what we think is possible in general across the World:

  • Crowd Monitoring – Visual RGB (Day/Night) and Thermal (Night)
  • COVID Detection using Thermal Cameras
  • Crowd Control / Information Dissemination
  • Disinfectant Spraying
  • Medicine Delivery
  • Blood Sample Collection

Since the start of COVID-19, drones are being used for the above applications in China, followed by other countries including India in the last few weeks.

Crowd Monitoring

Despite the repeated requests of the authorities to follow the Safety Guidelines as part of the Lockdown, the eager lot still seems to be venturing out for not-so-important reasons such as friendly get-togethers or a game of cards. Authorities in various states across India (and in various countries across the World) are making use of Camera Drones to monitor such occurrences and take necessary steps. Various Drone companies are using either their in-house drones or Commercial Drones such as DJI Phantom/Mavic/Inspire to help the authorities monitor strict implementation of the lockdown.

DJI Mavic Air for Crowd Monitoring during COVID19
DJI Mavic Air

COVID Detection using Thermal Cameras

Using Drones equipped with Thermal Cameras also seems to be tried in a few limited locations. While using them to detect gatherings or people breaking the Lockdown at night is the most effective application, it also seems to be used for detecting body temperatures of people so as to identify COVID postive cases. While the effectiveness of this is not established owing to the relatively low accuracy of the Thermal Cameras, it is believed that people are trying to come up with Solutions to fix such accuracy problems. It is also to be noted that measuring body temperatures from such long ranges during day time in Summer may not always yield useful results as the Ambient Temperature is already high enough to increase the body temperature and there might be hotter objects in the surrounding areas thus jeopardizing the Thermal Camera’s ability to give proper data.

Thermal Image of a large gathering
Thermal Image of a gathering

Crowd Control / Loudspeaker based Information Dissemination

In the past, Loudspeaker/Megaphone based drones have been used for Bird Scaring and Public Announcements among other things. For the COVID19 pandemic, such Drones become tools to implement the lockdown effectively owing to their ability to make important announcements or issue warnings to break up crowds. This currently seems to be employed in a few locations across India.

Loudspeaker based Drone for COVID19
Image Source: Gizmodo

Package/Payload Delivery

Delivery Drones have the potential to play an important role by delivering essentials or Medicines to places that are not connected by road or cannot receive items in time if delivered by road. This is not an application suggested for Urban settings as on date given the nascent stage of technology and the lack of appropriate safety mechanisms (such as parachutes etc.) in most available Working Prototypes of Drone Companies. A handful of Drone companies including THANOS have this capability to deliver package of various capacities but the details need to be worked out and Regulatory aspects need to be checked before attempting it properly in non-Urban areas too.

People across the world are getting innovative with using drones not only for Social Good but also for personal uses. We’ve recently read about a certain guy using a Drone to ask a girl out on a date by sharing his phone no. on the drone. As recently as this week, we’ve heard about Individuals in Gujarat using Drones to deliver Pan Masala to customers as Pan Shops are shut in view of the lockdown. As amusing as these sound, more critical applications can be served using Drones. Below is a Prototype Package Delivery Drone that can carry 2 Kg payload over a 2-3 Km distance. We, at THANOS are working on Delivery Drones with higher payload and range.

Payload Drone for COVID19

Disinfectant Spraying

Spraying of Disinfectants using Drones is one application that seems to be getting widely popular in India over the last few weeks. We, THANOS, have already demonstrated Disinfectant Spraying at Sangareddy (Telangana) and in Secunderabad Cantonment Board (Hyderabad). While some people think it is effective and the Govt. also seems to be eager to spend time and resources on it, we have an entirely opposite view with the way Disinfectant Spraying is currently being done with drones. Check out our Blogpost on this topic to know our detailed views on this aspect and decide for yourself.

One of the curious queries we received in the last 1 week was from someone who wanted Drones to be used for spraying in Corridors of high-rise buildings. We do understand that newer technologies need to be adopted as and when possible but only when they are a sensible alternative to the Status Quo. Spraying in corridors of high-rise buildings would not only require that the pilot walk behind the drone, but it is also not a recommended location for operating such large drones in such narrow restricted areas as corridors are bound on atleast a couple of sides, have limited GPS functionalities and are extremely confined spaces for operating the drone – not to mention the fact that the Spray itself will be distributed unevenly owing to the Propeller Downwash bouncing-off surfaces randomly. We naturally said NO suggesting that Manual Battery Operated Spraying is much more effective and efficient.

Spraying Drone in Action - Disinfectant Spraying for COVID19

We believe that any and all Drone applications need to be taken up based on the following:

  • Necessity: It is first and foremost important to understand if Drones/UAVs are the right platform for a certain use-case/problem.
  • Feasibility: It needs to be checked whether current drones are capable of addressing the above use-cases/problems.
  • Availability: Are the right Drones or components thereof available in India to cater to the above use-cases/problems. If not available, can we import Drones or Parts to build the drones?
  • Regulations: As we all know, Drones are governed by CAR 1.0 by DGCA. COVID-19 is a time of emergency and certainly Central Govt. and State Govts. need to work hand-in-hand on the Regulatory front to use this new technology for the benefit of the people of India.

Taking into account the drones we have in-house, we can take up Crowd Monitoring, Disinfectant Spraying (for limited use cases at high volume i.e. 80+ Litres per acre where it might be effective), Medicine Delivery / Blood Sample Collection (Limited Payload and Range). Thermal Monitoring and Crowd Control / Information Dissemination can be taken up too using our Custom Drone Platforms if the relevant sensor or Speaker mechanism can be provided.

We have already expressed our capabilities and interest to State Governments and have done a few Pilots in this regard. We look forward to contributing more during these tough times and wish all other Drone Companies in India the very best in their efforts to fight COVID-19.

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