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Drone Deployment to Combat COVID-19

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by Patrick J. Paul

As the world faces an unprecedented pandemic with the rapid spread of the coronavirus, drones are being increasingly deployed to assist in the response. From delivery, to disinfectant, to photography, the use of drones in this crisis continues to grow as emergency responders and food and medical supply delivery companies attempt to limit human contact while providing needed supplies over the coming weeks.

In China, drones have been used to deliver medicines and supplies to quarantined areas, eliminating the need for person-to-person contact.  Last week, the World Economic Forum highlighted in a blog post three ways China utilized drones to combat the coronavirus – consumer delivery, medical supply and transport, and aerial disinfection.

In countries like South Korea and Spain drones have been utilized to spray disinfectant over large public areas in a further attempt to flatten the curve of the virus spread.  Early indicators suggest that the coronavirus remains viable for a significant period on a variety of surfaces, thus disinfection is a valuable resource in containing the spread.

Drones containing loudspeakers also have been used in several impacted countries to broadcast public announcements – and even to announce and enforce mandatory “stay at home” orders.  In France and Spain, those drone-mounted loudspeakers broadcast messages like: “Travel is prohibited unless there are exceptional circumstances” and “Please respect the safety distances.”

Drones are also being used in the U.S. For example, in California, some police departments will use drones to enforce a COVID-19 lockdown and to monitor the homeless population during the crisis.

The Chula Vista Police Department, near the California-Mexico border, recently doubled its drone fleet (from 2 to 4) and will mount them with speakers and night vision cameras to assist in enforcement and monitoring efforts.

And, throughout the crisis, drone photographers have shared compelling images of empty streets and cities. One example of such imagery prepared by Drone Media Chicago depicts Chicago on lockdown. As our lives change with social distancing, remote learning and work, drones will continue to play an increasingly critical role.