Drones and the Coronavirus: The Many Ways Drones Are Supporting Containment Efforts in China


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The drone industry has had many firsts over the last few years.

Some of these have to do with breaking records, like longest flight times or heaviest loads carried, and some have been regulatory firsts, like getting FAA permission to fly BVLOS with a heavy drone or to make deliveries.

But the outbreak of the coronavirus (also called the Wuhan virus, for the Chinese city where it started) is one of the first times we’ve seen drones used as a tool for fighting the spread of infectious disease on a large scale.

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Read today's article to see all the ways that drones are currently being used in China to try and contain the virus.

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I’m absolutely on board with how drones are being used to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and give hope to the unaffected people living in the mist of this epidemic.  It shows how drones are actually saving life’s globally.  Drones are our future and the future is now! I’m proud to see the creative ways drones are helping the people in China.  I can’t wait to share these remarkable stories and videos with my students. We are all in this together to stop this atrocious outbreak. 

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There are increasing discussions regarding how China’s companies use drones against the coronavirus outbreak. For example, two top drone manufacturers in China, DJI and XAG, encourage their users to join respective initiatives regarding the fight against coronavirus.  Now, I am living in the centre of the Virus outbreak, Wuhan, so it enables me to provide some observations and reflections about the use of drones.

Technically, it is not hard to deploy drones in medical response missions as these companies need to adapt their agricultural drones. However, it is noteworthy that the drone manufacturers integrate their resources effectively in the short term.

According to the data released by the XAG, until Feb. 12, there are over 285 drone teams have joined over 2000 times of missions. Although the DJI has not yet published counterpart statistics, it is estimated that the total disinfecting areas will over 0.4 billion square meters.

Besides, although both companies label these actions as “voluntary” ones, you will find from public sources that they provide subsidies and technical assistance for pilots. For example,  UTC, which is the professional drone application training program offered by DJI,  is continuously providing free online courses regarding how to stop the spread of the virus.

From the perspective of drone companies, such investment would pay them back with significant benefits, such as free advertisement, good relation with local authorities and possible tax cut.

What lesson could we learn through the experiences of drones amid coronavirus outbreak? Some Chinese comments indicate that the plight of coronavirus has already stimulated the boom of using drones in the case of medical or disaster response missions.

I support such a positive assumption. For example, in China, when talking about disaster response missions, few commercial companies will dedicate to such a specialised field as they are not regular services. In this situation, a model like "Airbnb" will be more practical. It means that those agricultural pilots could be used in the case of emerging diseases, such as the locust plague in East Africa and South Asia.  

Edited by Long Yu
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