In March 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) worked with Canadian drone technology company Draganfly to develop a drone that could remotely detect people in crowds with infectious respiratory conditions such as COVID-19.
Dubbed the “pandemic drone,” it can be fitted with a specialized sensor and computer vision system that can monitor temperature, heart and respiratory rates to detect people sneezing and coughing in crowds, offices, airports, cruise ships, aged care homes and other places where groups congregate.
“There’s a lot of engineering going on right now but the aspiration is to have this in some sort of initial capability within six months. We had always thought the technology could be used for something like this but we also thought that this was something down the track as a nasty possibility,” UniSA’s Defence Chair of Sensor Systems Professor, Javaan Chahl, said in March 2020. “Now, shockingly, we see a need for its use immediately, to help save lives in the biggest health catastrophe the world has experienced in the past 100 years. It might not detect all cases, but it could be a reliable tool to detect the presence of the disease in a place or in a group of people.”
Professor Chahl and his research team achieved global recognition in 2017 when they demonstrated image-processing algorithms that could extract a human’s heart rate from drone video. Since then they have demonstrated that heart rate and breathing rate can be measured with high accuracy within 5-10 meters of people, using drones and at distances of up to 50 meters with fixed cameras. They have also developed algorithms that can interpret human actions such as sneezing and coughing.
The research has previously looked at using drones to monitor and react to elderly falls, look for signs of life in war zones or following a natural disaster and monitoring the heart rate of babies in neonatal incubators.
The two parties agreed to immediately start integrating commercial, medical and government customers. They added the technology was being adapted and fast-tracked to potentially become a viable screening tool for the COVID-19 pandemic. After that, such drones could prove valuable in big cities’ health toolkits, helping them more effectively manage population health issues.
On the heels of the coronavirus pandemic, it would be relatively easy to procure at least one drone for the city — helping its health department manage outcomes. Any result such drone delivers would be a win for the man/woman behind the idea of getting it in the first place. Better yet, it would prepare the city for future outbreaks, while also providing health workers with assistance during the flu season.
If there is no Draganfly distributor in your country, you may consider signing up to become one. With a focus on government clients and with a good PR/marketing campaign — and riding on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic — selling such smart, health-detecting drones should be relatively easy. For an even easier sell, you may want to add the fact that it could also be useful during the flu season. Alternatively, you may want to consider buying one or a few of these drones for your company and then renting it — or selling it as a service — to the city when there is a demand for it. Again, there's regular flu season.