Case Study: Using Drones To Fight Against COVID-19

by Afiq Bahruddin

In light of the recent Covid-19 epidemic, many parties have taken serious preventive steps to curb the spread. Find out how drones are in the frontline to respond to this plague.

From late 2019 until now, the world has been shocked by the epidemic of COVID-19 that was suspected to have been originated from a wet market in Wuhan, China.

This epidemic plagued the mass population all around the world. As of March 2, the death toll from this virus has passed the 3,000 mark, with 2,592 from China alone.

DJI, as part of their initiative, took the fighting to a whole new level. There are few ways of how drone technology has been used by DJI in helping the public to increase the preparedness in handling the virus.

Public Area Disinfiction

TAs Covid-19 is identified can be easily transmitted between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

There also possibilities of transmission when a person touched infected surfaces/areas which has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

As such, DJI, with the expertise from their drone engineering team, has adapted their spraying drone, Agras models to spray disinfectant in potentially affected areas.

Image via: March.my

By adapting spraying drone technology to spray disinfectant chemical, DJI has significantly changed the landscape of how China attempts to kill the virus in public areas: They can cover far more ground than traditional methods while reducing risk to workers who would otherwise spend more time potentially exposed to both the virus and the disinfectant.

Image via: DJI

After rounds of research and testing, DJI developed best practices for spraying a chlorine or ethyl alcohol-based disinfectant from the air. The concentration of the solution, as well as flight guidelines, can be modified for different circumstances, such as whether an area is known to be infected or not.

DJI has sprayed disinfectant in over 3 million square meters in Shenzhen. The company is also helping 1,000 counties in China to adopt the spraying method. Target areas include factories, residential areas, hospitals, and waste treatment plants. In total, this covers 600 million square meters across the country so far. With this solution, spraying efficiency can be 50 times faster than traditional methods. In a crisis where time plays a critical role, this is great news.

“Assisting on the containment of a disease, while ensuring safety to personnel, was very difficult to do in the past,” said Romeo Durscher, Senior Director of Public Safety Integration at DJI. “This was a complete grassroots movement. Users inspired us to take action, and it was worth the effort. It embodies the DJI spirit, where anyone with access to these new tools can help improve their environment and help society.”

Image via: DJI

Drone equipped with E-nose module can fly steadily in the air and it can perform autonomous flying via mission planner software which is done by the pilot.

Body Temperature Screening

Another step that DJI undertook is temperature screening using Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual. Coronavirus epidemic prevention units in China have been using thermal-imaging drones to remotely check residents’ temperatures. So DJI took steps to improve the precision of measurements taken using the thermal camera on the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drone.

ME2D temperature accuracy could previously be off by as much as 4˚ to 5˚ Celcius (7.2˚ to 9˚ Fahrenheit), but using a humble tool of cotton swab could reduce the margin of error to just 0.5˚ Celsius (0.9˚ Fahrenheit) under standard conditions.

DJI’s engineers found that sticking a cotton swab on their drones improves the accuracy of measuring a person’s temperature by acting as a reference for calibrating the thermal imaging camera.

Image via: DJI

The Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drone comes with a FLIR Lepton thermal microcamera and it was intended for industrial use, meaning it wasn’t made to measure body temperature. The cotton swab turned out to be the key to improving the camera’s accuracy, though DJI still doesn’t recommend using it for this purpose.

DJI said the cotton swab is an emergency solution created by their engineering team in three days. The company told us that they still recommend using professional medical equipment, but it’s also trying to find new ways for their tech to fight the spread of the deadly Covid-19 disease.

As narrated in a video, DJI M2ED also was used to check temperature of self-quarantined residents in China. M2ED was equipped with a speaker where it broadcast an announcement telling the resident inside the house to stand by at the balcony and stay still while the drone captures the body temperature by using thermal camera.

Awareness Campaign by Drone

With Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual too, mounted with a speaker, DJI and goverment officials in China has boosted the awareness campaign to the mass population to remind them the appropriate preventive measures to be taken in fighting the virus.

Loudspeakers were mounted on drones to help disperse public gatherings in crowded places. Drones flew banners advising people how to learn more about precautions. Thermal cameras on drones were also used to monitor body temperature so medical staff can identify new potential cases.

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