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COVID-19 Drones to the Rescue: an Opportunity to Shine

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by Kelly A. Daly

Around the world, drone enthusiasts are mobilizing to demonstrate the numerous benefits that Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS” or “drones”) technology can offer during this COVID-19 pandemic. Equipped with beacons, spotlights, visual and thermal cameras, specialized sensors and computer vision systems, so-called “pandemic drones” can remotely detect sneezing and coughing and can measure the temperature, and heart and respiratory rates of individuals indicating possible medical concerns.

In addition, police in France, Australia and Spain are attaching loudspeakers to drones and broadcasting warnings directing groups to disperse. In England, video footage captured by drones is being televised to shame individuals who are gathering in defiance of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Spain’s military is even equipping agriculture drones with disinfectant to disperse in common public areas in its trial efforts to contain the pandemic virus.

Prior to the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 900 public safety organizations across the United States have been deploying drone technology to assist them with situational awareness emergencies, accident reconstruction events and search and rescue missions. With the emergence of COVID-19 comes a new opportunity for drone operators to share additional proofs of concept that could reduce the spread of this virus. Such real-world use cases could involve mapping areas in which the virus has been located, identifying homeless populations in jeopardy of having the virus and/or transporting medication, equipment or medical samples without directly exposing first responders on the frontlines to the virus.

To assist in this effort, this week, DJI, a world leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging, activated a Disaster Relief Program to equip public safety agencies across the United States with the proper drone technology hardware and software to help combat the spread of COVID-19. The program, currently involving 100 drones deployed to many of the hardest hit parts of the country, mobilizes DJI and its enterprise network partners to support qualified police, fire and rescue departments in a UAS product donation (or extended loan) program, complete with training, technical support and repair service.

In exchange for being selected to participate in this program, DJI is asking that the recipient agencies “pay it forward” by creating best practices and by outlining and sharing their successful use cases and experiences to assist in the learning curve of other entities, and perhaps to encourage the FAA to consider expanding the authorized uses of UAS technology. Qualified public safety agencies interested in participating in this program can obtain more information here.