The coronavirus pandemic has pushed governments across the world to make use of drones not just to disinfect but to monitor their people. To enforce social distancing, Singapore’s police department is testing two autonomous drones. The pilotless drones, made by the Israeli company Airobotics, will be used to monitor crowds and gatherings. The drones will be trialed for three and a half months in the city. Additionally, this will be Airobotics’ first approval to fly drones in such a densely populated area.

Can drones maintain social distancing?

Two ‘Optimus’ drones will be used to enforce social distancing. The Optimus is a high-capacity 10 kg drone that can carry out 45-minute missions. It is part of Airobotics complete drone solution platform. The drone will be able to track and analyze visuals of large crowds and gatherings. Additionally, it can simultaneously relay the live footage to police officers.

Drones have proven highly effective in combating several solutions involving surveillance. For instance, India has already used drones successfully to enforce a nationwide lockdown. China, the epicenter of the pandemic, effectively used drones to curb the spread of the virus. Furthermore, drones have been a crucial tool in safeguarding borders. Therefore, the move to use drones in a metropolis like Singapore can prove to be highly effective. The approval for testing autonomous commercial drones within city limits is reportedly the first of its kind. The trial will be carried out over an industrial estate in the west of the city.

drones for social distancing
Image credit: Airobotics

“HTX is currently trialing the system in real operations, collecting critical operating data, for evaluating the feasibility of using this advanced technology to perform remote viewing of wide and difficult-to-access areas, in a safer and more cost-efficient way. The Airobotics system could provide the additional dimension of capability to augment our frontline,” said Cheng Wee Kiang, Director of Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems Centre of Expertise at HTX (Home Team Science & Technology Agency) Singapore.

The benefit of policing with drones is huge. By flying at an altitude, drones can get a precise view of a large area at once. They can then zoom in at any desired point and track anomalies. This basically provides surveillance of the entire area, even the remote places, to the law enforcement agencies without them having to physically be there. Additionally, all of this can be completed in a 45-minute drone operation after which the drone will automatically return to its base station and charge itself for the next flight.

Airobotics, which has already raised $120 million in funding, has plans to deploy its drones in other cities as well. As the pandemic continues to surge, drones are gradually helping governments around the world flatten the curve.