Drones sometimes get a bad rap by the public. So let’s take a look at how COVID-19 mainstreamed drones and gave them a better reputation.

Don’t get me wrong, drones have been in use by many companies around the world in positive ways before COVID-19. Drones are doing things such as monitoring animals, planting seeds to help with reforestation, and surveying land, to name a few. Many of these acts have gone unnoticed publicly, as mainstream media tends to focus on when drones are being used negatively.

This has changed more recently, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many news outlets showing drones being used in the fight against coronavirus.

During the pandemic

Law enforcement and spraying

During the pandemic, drones were first used in China to remind the public to stay indoors and wear masks. Chinese farmers then used their agricultural drones to spray disinfectant over streets and public areas to help prevent the spread of the virus. Many other countries in Asia, Europe, and North America followed suit by using drones to spray down public areas, buildings, and even sports arenas in the United States.

Temperature testing

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a few companies have turned to using drones to take people’s temperatures as handheld temperature testers became hard to acquire. DJI was using its DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise drones to test people’s temperatures, but a cotton swab was required to be in view of the camera to improve the thermal camera’s accuracy. The more widely talked about Draganfly created the “pandemic drone,” which was created in partnership with the University of South Australia. The pandemic drone is able to measure the temperature from above and can detect signs of coronavirus such as coughing.

The drones that have been used to monitor people from above, check for temperatures, and signs of COVID-19 have faced a fair amount of backlash from both the public and professionals. In Paris, a lawsuit, which has now been overturned, was filed against the Paris Police for using drones that are capable of detecting identify features. Many around the world have brought up the issue of mass surveillance and an invasion of privacy.

Deliveries

Drone medical deliveries were already happening before COVID-19, but it certainly fast-tracked medical drone deliveries throughout the world. Zipline has begun to deliver COVID-19 tests and blood samples by drone from remote villages in Ghana. More recently it’s moved into North Carolina six months ahead of schedule as a result of COVID-19. The drones are used to deliver medical masks to frontline health workers in North Carolina autonomously.

Non-medical deliveries have also gone up in popularity, with Wing Aviation seeing around a 350% increase month-on-month. Wing Aviation currently makes deliveries of small food items and medications from a chemist in Logan, Australia. In the US, Wing Aviation is working with FedEx to deliver packages from Walgreens, a few bakeries, and a retailer. The deliveries allow for at-risk people who do not have to leave the safety of their house to get the essentials.

Drone companies

Throughout the pandemic, drone companies have also stepped up to help fight COVID-19 by turning their supply chains into face-mask makers for frontline workers. French drone company Parrot has donated 5,000 of its motors to an open-source ventilator program in which low-cost ventilators are being produced to make up for the demand.

Amazon Air, who usually builds delivery drones, switched to producing face masks for frontline workers. Amazon’s drone team has already produced and donated 10,000 face masks with another 20,000 in production. DJI is also working with authorities in the US to send drones free of charge to law enforcement agencies around the country to use in the fight against coronavirus. The drones are being used by law enforcement to monitor the public and enforce social distancing.

Did your view on drones change as a result of their use during the COVID-19 pandemic? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo: Jakob Owens

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