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Bridge Bytes: The Rise of Drones in a COVID-19 World

5 months ago by James Kenealey

Gray And Green Quadcopter Drone On Ground 744366

In the last few years, drone technology has developed considerably. With more and more people becoming amateur drone pilots, the power of the technology available off the shelf to the average consumer has increased drastically.

Where once drone technology was reserved for high-level military deployments, it has now become more available than ever, and the practicalities of its use in all manner of applications is becoming more apparent. For example, in the film industry drones have replaced helicopters as the primary vehicle for aerial shots, and with that, shots can become more dynamic (from extreme closeup right out to high aerial in one shot).

Indeed, for a range of increasing price tags, the average consumer can get their hands on drone technology with a range measured in miles, with speeds of up to 60mph and intelligent technology that guides the drone safely back to the pilot when the battery is running low.

Drones have also been utilised to great effect during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in China, the epicentre of the outbreak. Given that drones are naturally suited to situations where human interaction is intended to be kept at a minimum, DJI worked with local partners in the region to develop drone capabilities aimed at four key areas:

Inspection

Drones have become a powerful tool to visualise and scan areas remotely or even broadcast messages. In areas of Wuhan with a particularly high population density, officials could transmit messages and inspect areas with minimum interaction.

Temperature Checks

A crucial early warning sign of a coronavirus infection is an elevated temperature. Many companies and facilities in the region adopted on-the-door temperature checks before admitting people into buildings. One of the risk factors this entails is the testing personnel coming into close proximity to virus carriers, resulting in them becoming unknowing vectors of the illness.

Teams used drones equipped with infrared cameras to measure temperature. Teams developed a calibration process which enabled them to produce usable data, though not data that would be used for standard medical procedures (there is still capacity for inaccuracy).  

Medical Supply Delivery

Given that the citizens of the Wuhan province have been part of the largest and strictest lockdown in human history, supplies became essential where people were not allowed to leave their home. For the first time, drones were used to deliver packages of medical provisions and other supplies into high-risk areas. Drones were modified to allow carriage and despatch of a package up to 6kg in weight.

Disinfecting Areas

With the scientific consensus that the coronavirus can live on surfaces for a period of time (anywhere from hours to days), disinfecting public spaces was crucial in trying to contain the spread. Modified agricultural spraying drones allowed this to be done without potentially exposing other people to the virus, at a much faster rate and more thoroughly than a team of people doing the same job.
In the early stages of the pandemic, DJI facilitated the spraying of over 3 million square meters in Shenzhen.  

It’s clear from here on out that drones very much have a place in a practical and even emergency capacity. Online retail giant Amazon has been teasing the introduction of its ‘Prime Air’ drone delivery service for a number of years, promising to deliver products to consumers in 30 minutes if they live within 10 miles of a fulfilment centre (and if their item is small enough and light enough to be carried). While this service is still yet to materialise beyond occasional tests, it’s reasonable to assume that the developments made in fighting the coronavirus pandemic will help in bringing that terrifyingly fast delivery service to life.

If you’ve been inspired to purchase your own drone, don’t forget that it’s now illegal to fly one without registering it and taking a test.

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