As the entire world scrambles to react to the global health crisis caused by the spread of the new coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness, conversations about automation and the role of robotics in society have never been more relevant. With the number of those infected by the new coronavirus passing 1,000,000 and the number of deaths passing 50,000, two main concerns sit at the forefront of government decisions: 1) How do we slow down the spread of this highly infectious virus? And, 2) How do we keep economies afloat and deliver essential goods amid the first lockdown of this scale that the modern world has ever seen? Robotics in general, and especially commercial drones, have a major role to play in both of these endeavours.
Drones Helping Battle the Virus
First and foremost, drones have already proven to be useful tools in curbing the spread of the virus and aiding efforts to contain and battle the COVID-19 disease. There are in fact at least five tangible ways in which drones can and are being used right now:
Medical Drone Deliveries
The most prominent use case for drones in the coronavirus crisis so far have definitely been medical drone deliveries. The Chinese drone delivery operator, Antwork, recently joined efforts to battle the virus by delivering medical supplies. Our recent interview with their COO, Zhao Liang, explains this endeavour further. Medical drone deliveries can be a game changer for efforts to battle the virus not only because they can speed up deliveries of essential supplies and samples, but also because they reduce the exposure of crucial medical staff.
Moreover, medical drone delivery operators – from Antwork in China to Swiss Post with Matternet in Switzerland, Wing and also UPS in the US – are amongst the most commonly authorised drone delivery companies out there. This means that as far as regulations are concerned, especially in the case of the Part 135 certified UPS, medical drone deliveries of test samples, masks, donations and much more could be scaled throughout this year and into 2021 to help hospitals and other public health stakeholders.
Surveillance & Monitoring
In addition to monitoring the streets, authorities are able to further reduce the risk and exposure of police officers and other personnel by using drones to broadcast messages and spread information about procedures. This use case has been seen not only in Europe but further afield in less developed nations, like Mongolia. Given the unprecedented nature of the current public health crisis, broadcasting messages about social distancing and with key information about nearby hospitals is key to helping residents remain informed and participate in the global efforts.
Finally, other than developing a vaccination and slowing down the spread of the virus, governments are also concerned about improving public health infrastructure in order to be able to handle high numbers of patients in need of intensive care. In many countries this has involved adapting large spaces into temporary hospitals and in some cases like China, Germany, Russia and the United States, the building of new emergency hospitals and units to help care for infected patients away from those hospitalised for other reasons and therefore highly vulnerable to COVID-19. Drones frequently used for surveying have a major role to play in helping governments build more efficiently and with minimum human involvement (and thus exposure to the virus).
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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