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Drones and the Coronavirus: The Many Ways Drones Are Supporting Containment Efforts in China

BY Zacc Dukowitz
20 February 2020

The drone industry has had many firsts over the last few years.

Some of these have to do with breaking records, like longest flight times or heaviest loads carried, and some have been regulatory firsts, like getting FAA permission to fly BVLOS with a heavy drone or to make deliveries.

But the outbreak of the coronavirus (also called the Wuhan virus, for the Chinese city where it originated) is one of the first times we’ve seen drones used as a tool for fighting the spread of infectious disease on a large scale.

How Drones Are Being Used to Contain the Coronavirus

As updates on the coronavirus have become a daily part of our newsfeeds, we’ve been hearing about different ways that drones are being used in the effort to prevent it from spreading.

Some of these are obviously good, like using drones to deliver medical supplies in order to minimize human exposure to the virus, while others seem more like ideas from an Orwellian work of fiction that never made it to publication.

Here is our list of all the ways that drones are currently supporting efforts to contain the coronavirus in China right now.

Medical Deliveries

Drones have been used for medical deliveries in China for a few years now, bringing medical supplies to remote areas that are hard to access by land.

Now that same technology is being put to use to help contain the coronavirus, with drones delivering medical supplies in infected areas to minimize human exposure to the virus.

Antwork Robotics, a Chinese drone delivery company owned by Terra Drone, has been making drone deliveries between the Xinchang County People’s Hospital, the Xinchang County disease control center, and the Dashiju branch of the Xinchang County People’s hospital. Xinchang County is located in Zhejiang province, which is one of the areas most heavily impacted by the coronavirus, with over 1,000 confirmed patients.

Photo credit: Antwork Robotics

The items delivered are primarily medical samples, including quarantined samples. Using drones to carry these samples means fewer people have to be directly involved in relaying them from one place to another, thus reducing exposure and improving the speed of delivery times.

Spraying Disinfectant

DJI has been using its Agras agriculture drone to spray a chlorine alcohol-based disinfectant in areas potentially affected by the coronavirus. The Agras was created to spray herbicides and pesticides in agriculture and has been retrofitted to spray disinfectant instead.

DJI has already covered an impressive amount of ground, reportedly spraying disinfectant over 3 million square meters in Shenzhen, where the company is based.

DJI says that spraying disinfectant is “50 times faster than traditional methods.”

Photo credit: DJI

Drone company XAG has also established a 5-million-yuan ($715,000) volunteer fund to support the use of their agriculture drones for spraying disinfectant to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

These disinfectant operations are targeting rural villages, where there is less access to medical resources, as well as medical vehicles, among other high-risk areas.

On January 28, XAG’s drone fleets were used to disinfect a local community of over 300,000 square meters in China’s Shandong province. The entire operation took less than 4 hours.

Identifying People without Masks—and Telling Them to Put One On

CNN has reported on drones being used to talk to Chinese citizens about safety precautions they should be taking to avoid getting infected with the coronavirus.

The spooky part of this is that the statements being made by drone are not pre-recorded, but directly address individuals.

In the video below, a woman is admonished for being outside without wearing a mask, and told “You’d better go back home and don’t forget to wash your hands.” (Skip to 00:23 to see what we’re talking about.)

Watch China use 'talking drones' to warn citizens

Carrying Banners

In one of the more low-tech drone uses we’ve heard about, drones have reportedly been carrying banners with information on how people can avoid contracting the coronavirus.


Taking Temperatures Remotely with Thermal Drones

Drones outfitted with thermal cameras are being used to monitor body temperatures, allowing medical staff to identify new potential cases without having to touch those who might be infected.

Check out this video of a drone using a thermal camera to measure people’s temperature at a distance by having them stand on the balcony of their apartment building.

Other Drone-Related Activities

In addition to their uses in containment efforts, here are a few other ways drones have made the news in China lately in relation to the coronavirus.

Aerial Video of Wuhan

This video shows the deserted streets of Wuhan, illustrating the eerie abandonment in parts of China right now as people stay indoors to try and avoid the coronavirus.

Drone footage captures the eerie, deserted streets of Wuhan, China


Chinese drone companies have been stepping up to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, making significant pledges of money to help the effort.

DJI has pledged almost $1.5 million in aid to help contain the coronavirus, and XAG has established a $715K fund to support containment efforts.

Are you creeped out or impressed by some of the methods drones are being used for in containment efforts? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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