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The world-leading drone-making company Draganfly is developing a "pandemic drone" in collaboration with the University of South Australia and the Australian Department of Defence as a solution to help combat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The drone will monitor people remotely and pick up signs of infectious respiratory conditions such as coughing and fever, to provide real-time data about the spread of the disease.
Draganfly: An Industry Leader in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)
Draganfly has more than 20 years' experience in the drone industry and has been pivotal in helping to shape the commercial unmanned aerial vehicle sector. The Canadian company, which is chaired by CEO Cameron Chell, is based in Saskatchewan. It has offices in Vancouver, Los Angeles, and North Carolina.
Chell has been an entrepreneur in the technology field for more than 30 years. His ideas and solutions have helped companies revolutionize the way business is conducted and how people experience the world.
Until now, drones involved in combating COVID-19 across the world have played supportive roles such as checking on quarantine zones and how well people are complying with social distancing and isolation measures.
The new Draganfly technology is set to become a game-changing solution that could provide healthcare officials with valuable, real-time epidemiologic data on the spread of the disease.
The Pandemic Drone Will be Part of a Global Monitoring Network
The drone will be part of a global network monitoring the pandemic, operating in conjunction with camera systems such as CCTV already in place across the world. The data collected will be fed into software that has been developed by the company Vital Intelligence, Inc., as part of the Vital Intelligence Project.
A combination of sensors, including a visible light camera, microphones, thermal cameras, and temperature sensors, will provide information on the following:
- Respiratory and heart rates
- Blood pressure
- Skin tone
- Movement and skin color changes
The drones will focus on places where people tend to crowd or interact such as airports, cruise ships, offices, and nursing homes.
Leader of the University of South Australia (UniSA) team, Professor Javaan Chahl, says the technology "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."
Worldwide Recognition for Developing Drone Technology
Chahl and colleagues previously achieved worldwide recognition in 2017 after presenting image-based algorithms that could determine the human heart rate from videos incorporated into drones.
The technology has since been developed to extract heart and breathing rates from within 5 to 10 meters of a subject using camera-containing drones located 50 meters away. Algorithms that can interpret movement to determine coughing or sneezing have also been developed.
Chahl says the technology had previously been intended for the remote monitoring of natural disasters and warzones, but that "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."
Chell says Dragonfly will use its expertise in sensors, software, and engineering to work together with UniSA on deploying the technology to help governments and those in the medical field:
"We are honored to work on such an important project given the current pandemic facing the world with Covid-19. Health and respiratory monitoring will be vital not only for detection but also to understand health trends."
Draganfly, CEO Cameron Chell
What Inspired Dragonfly to Develop the Pandemic Drone?
Around three months ago, once the problem in care homes was starting to become serious, Draganfly began thinking about how drones might be able to help.
The company acknowledged that thermal cameras would not measure core temperature and could not detect fevers as temperature sensors can. The company decided to team up with UniSA, which specializes in sensor development and its potential deployment in priority areas where the technology could achieve successful outcomes.
Draganfly researched, developed protocols, and conducted tests. Within a few weeks, it had completed a deal and licensed the Vital Intelligence Project – a platform for monitoring health and respiratory conditions. As well as researchers at UniSA, the company developed the platform in collaboration with the Australian Department of Defence Science and Technology Group.
In addition to temperature monitoring and determining heart and respiratory rates, the platform estimates the distances people are keeping between one another. Draganfly envisages airlines and cruise ships using the technology as well as at-risk groups such as elderly individuals in care homes and crowds present at convention centers or border crossings.
"When you combine things like fever, coughing, elevated heart rate, particular respiratory rates, then you've got a picture of health," says Chell… "You’re not diagnosing if somebody has COVID-19 or not, but you are doing a health measurement and getting a pretty clear idea of the rate of infectious or respiratory diseases potentially in an area.”
The data the drone collects is sent back to a secure cloud in an encrypted format.
Future Hopes and Directions of the Pandemic Drone
As governments and researchers worldwide battle with the COVID-19 crisis, from monitoring its spread through to estimating when it may be safe to relax social distancing and isolation measures, many are paying more attention to the potentially valuable role that unmanned aerial vehicles could play.
The need for new technologies that can quickly identify infected individuals that require quarantining to prevent further spread has become urgent since the current approaches have been slow, and tools have been limited in their availability.
The public and private sectors urgently require technologies that can help minimize human contact, as well as quickly providing information on the effectiveness of any lockdown and social isolation/distancing measures that have been implemented.
Any operation that depends on people interacting with one another is desperate for data that may help in the identification and understanding of health trends.
The pandemic drone developed by Draganfly will help health officials hone in on outbreaks immediately as it flies above people, effectively taking their temperatures and detecting any cases of fever and respiratory problems to help safeguard public health.
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