The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected all industries globally. With every major supply chain at a halt, drones have proved to be the bridging factor. Drone deliveries, sanitization, thermal screening, public announcements, and law enforcement, UAVs have shown a range of applications. Let’s take a look at some of the ways drones have helped us throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 vaccine is a crucial part of ending the pandemic. However, distributing vaccines to at least 70% of the global population is a challenging task. Even more so in remote areas and underdeveloped countries. In Africa, where the healthcare system and logistics are limiting factors for vaccine distribution, drones are helping tackle this challenge.
Zipline, a drone delivery service has been instrumental in delivering medical supplies in Rwanda, Malawi, and Ghana. During the pandemic, Zipline has delivered essential Covid-19 supplies in these areas that include PPE kits, COVID-19 test samples, and more recently COVID-19 vaccines. Zipline has delivered around 11,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in Ghana, and is expected to deliver an additional 2.5 million doses. The company has also conducted drone delivery operations in the US for delivering PPE kits after FAA’s approval. This is the first time the FAA has approved autonomous BVLOS drone delivery in dense urban areas.
In India, the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) has granted a one-year conditional permission to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to conduct trial delivery of COVID-19 vaccines using drones. ICMR will conduct the drone delivery trials in collaboration with IIT Kanpur.
So far, 18 countries have deployed drones for delivery and transportation purposes during COVID-19 pandemic. Some of them did it as a part of experimentation and tests, while others maintained their regular drone delivery operations.
Aerial spraying of disinfectants has become a faster way of sanitizing large public spaces. While there exists no scientific evidence of the effectiveness of aerial spraying, several countries have attempted this method of disinfecting public spaces. China was the first country to disinfect thousands of square kilometers using aerial spraying drones. UAE, Spain, South Korea, and India have also followed suit.
A Chennai-based startup Garuda Aerospace will operate their drones to sanitize various public places in Bengaluru. The company had earlier deployed drones to sanitise other Indian cities and also to aid the NDRF in flood relief and rescue operations. Garuda Aerospace has also developed a delivery drone called – ‘The White Knight’ which will be used for vaccine delivery trials.
Public Space Monitoring
Drones have been used throughout 2020 to monitor public places and enforce social distancing through public announcements. Law enforcement agencies have deployed drones in various cities for this purpose.
In France, the police have deployed the Mavic 2 Enterprise with its mounted loudspeaker to enforce lockdown measures. The drone flies around the city center and areas prone to mass gatherings to broadcast standard precautions like keeping a safe distance or traveling only when purchasing necessities.
During the initial nationwide lockdown in India, the local police in Maharashtra and Gujarat made use of drones to book people disobeying social distancing norms and monitor defaulters.
Similarly, such an application was seen in countries like Italy, China, Austria, Norway, and Spain.
Apart from the above-mentioned applications, drones have also been used for thermal imaging of potentially sick people in public spaces. However, there is little to no scientific evidence that suggests thermal screening using drones is an effective method of detecting sick individuals. Nevertheless, China has used drone-mounted thermal scanners to check the temperatures of quarantined patients in apartment complexes.
China has even used drones for lighting up construction sites during the construction of the temporary COVID-19 hospital in Wuhan. Drones continue to act as contact-less ways of reaching the potentially sick and thus, governments across the world are pushing for its varied use.