The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is changing the way people interact and businesses operate. In a world where lockdown measures and social distancing have become the new norm, drones are playing a key role in helping authorities and governments in different ways to contain the spread of the outbreak.
Surveillance and monitoring
To ensure people stay within their homes, especially in containment zones, drones equipped with cameras and speakers are being used to keep an eye not only on lockdown violations but also to broadcast information and messages related to COVID-19.
Surveillance has been a common use of drones globally to keep check on the movement of people. In India, one of the first states to have used the technology to fight the virus was Kerala. The state government used drones and geo-based fencing to track the movement of people and monitor quarantines in order to follow lockdown restrictions.
The Goa police also used drones to keep an eye on densely populated regions. The state is now declared a green zone. This was followed by the Bengaluru police that started using drones and chatbots to prevent the spread of the virus.
Countries like UAE, Chile, Indonesia, Philippines and China have been loading up agriculture spray drones with disinfectants to spray in affected areas. Experts believe, drones are more powerful than manual spraying since it covers a larger area and efficiently reaches all the spots. In India, Chennai based startup Garuda Aerospace helped the government to completely disinfect the city of Varanasi. This was achieved by the collaboration of Invest India with India’s National Investment Promotion Agency through the AGNI Mission, and Invest India’s Business Immunity Platform (BIP).
Likewise, DJI, a Shenzhen-based producer of drones and quadcopters, is working with Chinese authorities in Shenzhen to disinfect public places along with factories, residential areas, hospitals, and other areas that potentially could have been previously occupied by infected patients. The disinfectant spraying drones could potentially reduce the risk to frontline workers working in the infected areas and also cover a large area in a shorter time making them more effective than traditional methods of disinfectant spraying.
Medical supply and delivery
Delivery of medicines and essential items to hospitals is the need of the hour and to ensure that drones have been carrying the supplies. In parts of the US, China, and Australia, they have also been using it to deliver other commodities via drones. By using a drone, the supplies reach without getting in contact with other people to acquire supplies.
Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet, has rolled out a drone delivery system to supply essential goods to the residents of Virginia amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a mobile app, customers can order items online, wherein the drone picks up the order from the respective delivery facility and helps consumers to buy essentials without compromising the safety measures.
Drones are also playing a critical role in surveying mapping areas where hospitals and big buildings are used to assess the impact of the virus. In countries like China, the US and Germany, drones are being used to map the areas required to construct hospitals with minimal human involvement. Furthermore, drones are being used to illuminate areas designated for construction activity in the COVID-19 hotspots.
What about India’s drone policy?
The drone regulations in India have been quite restricted before the outbreak of coronavirus. There are multiple laws around these unmanned aerial vehicles that make the ownership of drones complicated.
The Civil Aviation Requirement drone policy states that an aerial survey can be undertaken by pilots after they get a NOC (No Objection Certificate) from a web portal with the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) giving permission.
All drones should be enrolled on this portal and they will be given a unique digital number plate that will help the authorities keep track of it in case there is an unfortunate activity. Another regulation is around the visual line of sight of the operator that is BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight). The regulation calls for a limit of 400 ft for beyond operations.
However, the emergency situation has led the authorities to operate drones. In such situations, it also becomes difficult to not cover more areas beyond sight. The security and misuse of drones continue to remain a top concern but the potential of drones as a safety tool has also created a place of its own.
Nonetheless, drone startups have been actively helping state and central governments in fighting the virus and maybe, there can be some changes in the drone policy after the virus is defeated and more importantly, these are used by Governments at the moment so there is no security concern.
According to a report by FICCI and EY, the Indian drones market is expected to touch $885.7 million by 2021 with the global market size approaching $21.47 billion. Furthermore, a report by PwC India states that the drones space is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18% during 2017-23.
The Indian laws may be made more inclusive of drone startups and find a strong security measure too that ensures drones are used well even when there isn’t an emergency. However, with better laws, the drone sector can take off and also be grounded by ethics.
Therefore, it is interesting to see how drones are increasingly becoming crucial to contain the COVID-19 spread in these unprecedented times, as Dixit concludes, “In a world ruled by social distancing, drones are stepping up the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. They are minimizing human interactions and limiting cross-infection among frontline workers. The use of drones also lowers the cost of combating the disease as well as increases the effectiveness by being quicker, safer and a cost-effective solution in the ever-evolving complex environments.”