We get asked regularly by people at aviation days or from our Remote Pilot License courses about the future of drone technology, how we see the industry growing, and how we see drones changing the lives of everyday Aussies. As we attack this virus globally, this question has never been more relevant.
In just a few short months, Coronavirus has changed everything. From how we greet each other to how we workshop and educate our children. As I write this, I sit three metres away from my partner, whose employer placed her in mandatory isolation a week ago. Undoubtedly, the virus is at a point where it is impacting all of us daily. Something as minor as a trip to the shops to buy toilet paper has now become a major undertaking, our economy is catastrophically retracing, and devastatingly, people are losing their jobs or worse.
However, amongst all this devastation there are some wins. If there is some good to come from this crisis, it maybe that we are seeing the way drones are used evolve rapidly and their impact on saving lives.
From the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in China, Medtech companies began rolling out drones to help fight the spread and provide services and care to those quarantined or practising social distancing.
Drones were operationalised that could patrol and observe crowds with more efficiency, and provide less risk to persons of contracting the virus. Using thermal imaging cameras drones helped officials to identify people with elevated body temperatures, making it easier to detect those that may be unaware that they were infected, and made it possible to spot those not wearing government-mandated face masks.
Using drones has facilitated the transport of medical and other supplies between hospital facilities, eliminating the need for human travel to help contain the virus spread. Early in February, a drone with a payload of medical testing supplies took off from the People’s Hospital of Xinchang County, Zhejiang Province and flew to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention located 3 km away. As a result, a journey that would have taken 20 minutes by ground transport took only 6, cutting delivery time by more than half.
Drones originally designed to spray pesticides for agricultural applications have been adapted to spray disinfecting chemicals throughout public spaces and on epidemic prevention vehicles travelling between impacted areas. Depending on the application, drone spraying has been proven to be up to fifty times more efficient than hand spraying.
Delivery of items has always been challenging in parts of China, thanks to difficult landscapes and the remoteness of some communities. In some of China’s semi-isolated islands, routine grocery deliveries typically required three modes of transport – Shipping, ferrying and foot. When counter-virus measures suspended the ferry service, the trip turned into a 3-hour marathon. In just a few days, several drone delivery corridors were put in place replacing 3 hours, with a 2 km flight that could be completed in just 10 minutes.
As a global community, we have overcome devastating events like this before, and this too shall pass. The coronavirus outbreak in China has led to significant experimentation with many emerging technologies, including drones, which is exciting for our industry. While these innovations are still in their earliest phases, we can begin to draw some lessons that can be useful once COVID-19 is a thing of the past.
Drones are pushing along the delivery of healthcare and consumer delivery industries and playing a key role in managing the COVID-19 outbreak. Every day, we are learning lessons from the necessity of real world practices that inevitably will be incorporated into regulatory frameworks country by country moving forward. As this happens, we may just begin to realise the potential of drone technology globally.
As the world continues its evolution while battling COVID-19, these lessons will reshape our worldview, create new jobs, and position us better to fight something like this in the future.
The UAV Training Australia Team