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Drones and the Coronavirus: Updates on World-Wide Drone Efforts to Fight COVID-19’s Spread

BY Zacc Dukowitz
18 March 2020

One month ago we wrote about all the ways that China has been using drones to contain the coronavirus. Some of the top uses included medical deliveries, scolding people for being outside without a facemask, spraying disinfectant over large areas with retrofitted agricultural drones, and using thermal cameras to take people temperatures.

Since writing that article the coronavirus has spread throughout the world, leading other countries to adopt some of the same drone tactics, as well as some new ones.

coronavirus-spain-drones
In Madrid, drones are being used to ask people to stay home

Here is an update on world-wide drone efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Flying Loudspeakers in Spain

In Spain, public safety personnel have been using drones as flying loudspeakers to spread the message that everyone should stay indoors to help avoid transmitting the coronavirus.

In the video below we see law enforcement officers in Spain using loudspeakers attached to drones to broadcast apparently pre-recorded messages about the importance of staying home.

In China, drones have also been used as loudspeakers but to talk directly to specific individuals, asking them to put on masks and to go home.

Drone Delivery for Containment

Drone delivery has obvious benefits in a time like this, when both expediency and minimal human contact are incredibly important.

Medical Drone Delivery

In China, Terra Drone’s Antwork has been conducting medical drone deliveries from Xinchang County’s disease control center to the Xinchang County People’s Hospital to help reduce human exposure to the coronavirus. Xinchang County is located in Zhejiang province, one of the areas that was most heavily impacted by the virus.

antwork-coronavirus-medical-delivery
Photo credit: Antwork

Medical drone deliveries have also been made from the Xinchang’s People’s Hospital to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, cutting a trip that would have taken 20 minutes by car down down to just 6 minutes.

Other companies that perform medical drone delivery, like Zipline, UPS, and Matternet, could also be of huge help in these times. Just last week news broke that Zipline has been asked by Novant Health to begin medical deliveries in North Carolina in an initiative unrelated to the pandemic—we’ll be curious to see if it will ramp up operations more quickly than planned to help with ongoing containment efforts.

Package Drone Delivery

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the world, postal deliveries have reportedly gone up. Which is no surprise—everyone is trying to minimize their time in crowded places right now.

Drone delivery presents an attractive solution for providing support to overworked postal workers while also helping reduce the human exposure element that persists with manual delivery.

We know one thing for sure—residents of Christiansburg, VA are probably happy they have an active drone delivery program in place. Alphabet’s Wing recently started deliveries there under its Part 135 certification, delivering small items like food and over-the-counter medical supplies.

UPS also has the regulatory permission needed to start its own drone delivery program, and could begin exercising it soon to help those in need.

Waiting in the drone delivery wings are Amazon’s Prime Air and Aquiline Drones. Both companies are rumored to be close to holding Part 135 certifications, which could lead to the expedited rollout of new delivery programs to help in the current crisis.

[Learn more about how far drone delivery has come in the last year.]

Airborne International Response Team (AIRT) Creates COVID-19 Task Force, Launches Study

This week the Airborne International Response Team (AIRT) announced two new initiatives related to the coronavirus—the creation of a task force to help fight its spread, and the launch of a study on how UAS are being used in containment efforts.

airt-drone-covid-19-task-force
Photo credit: AIRT

DRONERESPONDERS Creates COVID-19 task force

DRONERESPONDERS, the public services division of AIRT, has created a public safety UAS task force to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

The task force will be working to address potential use cases and mission planning needs that could help with containment efforts. It will also be collaborating with partners in government and private industries to provide insights on how drones can help in fighting the pandemic.

AIRT’s Research Program to Track Use Cases Related to COVID-19

In addition to the creation of the task force, AIRT announced this week that it will be launching a research program to help identify and track operational use cases related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This program is being designed to document and archive drone use cases related to the coronavirus outbreak to help combat future pandemics around the globe.

– AIRT statement

We imagine AIRT will come across a lot of drones for good stories in its research.

About AIRT

AIRT is a nonprofit with the mission of providing airborne capabilities to “help people prepare for, respond to, and recover from complex emergencies and major disasters.”

The organization is based in Miami, FL but operates throughout the world. It is working to build a global network of specialized teams for airborne support during disasters, especially with UAS.

Drone Events Cancelled Due to Coronavirus

Major drone-related events have been canceled recently in efforts to aid containment of the virus.

This week we heard the news that AUVSI’s annual XPONENTIAL conference, which was scheduled for May, has been canceled and tentatively rescheduled for August.

The Energy Drone and Robotics Summit has also been postponed indefinitely, as has Flyability’s first U.S. user conference.

InterDrone 2020, scheduled for August 18-21, is still on—for now.

Know of other ways that drones are being used to fight the coronavirus? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to share what you know.

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