When the COVID-19 outbreak in China initially began, government officials in the country turned to drone maker DJI to help disinfect a total of 400 million square meters using modified agricultural drones to contain the virus.
As the virus spreads worldwide, infecting more than 3.5 million people, countries continue to use the technology for a variety of different measures to contain the spread.
Drones are being used for everything from distributing public information to delivering medical samples and spraying disinfectants. Drones allow countries to reduce the risk to human workers as well as the ability to reach places where humans would have trouble accessing.
Companies in the U.S. and Canada such as Zipline, Draganfly and Drone Delivery Canada are working with local officials to help regions dealing with the pandemic. In Europe, companies such as Quarternium, Drone Tools and Manna Aero are doing the same.
Disinfecting public spaces
Following in China's footsteps, Europe and the U.S. are also using modified agriculture drones to spray disinfecting chemicals in public spaces and impacted areas. Spraying surfaces in public areas helps to kill the virus, which research has shown can reportedly live on some surfaces for up to 30 days.
Drone startup Quaternium has tested a hybrid drone, called the Hybrix, to spray disinfectant products in Spain. The company is working with public authorities to end the spread of the virus and could be used in the future against similar threats to human health.
Drones are also being used to disseminate news about the virus and to prevent public gatherings. Drones mounted with speakers are traveling outdoors to identify and then break up groups that are not keeping 6 ft apart or are gathering in areas where they should not. Drones can also be found flying with banners and advising people to be more cautious while outside.
Meanwhile, Impossible Aerospace is working with police departments in the U.S. to limit personal contact and share COVID-19 information. One of the targets of this campaign is homeless people at risk for contracting coronavirus.
While most drone experts believe that drone delivery will be used to fight future pandemics, some drone delivery is already taking place globally to help stop the spread of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Delivery giant UPS is working with drone startups DroneUp and Workhorse Group to test how unmanned aerial systems can assist medical professionals testing for COVID-19 and for the treatment of infected patients. UPS is also delivering prescription drugs to a Florida retirement community from a local CVS to limit human contact, particularly among high-risk seniors. Flytrex is also testing how its drones could be used to provide food, medicine and other essential goods in North Dakota.
Quaternium is also experimenting with its aerial logistics solutions by delivering items to people during the pandemic. Long endurance drones can be used to deliver supplies such as masks and gloves to first responders as well as deliver medicine from a pharmacy to patients that cannot safely get the prescriptions otherwise.