Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Drones have nearly endless capabilities which allow them to be able to perform various tasks in many fields including agriculture, public safety, and healthcare. In the field of healthcare, drones have made massive leaps. In the past, drones have been used in Tanzania to fight malaria by mass-spraying larvicide to kill mosquitoes before they can spread the deadly disease. Now, drones are being used in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
Since their creation, drones have been a contentious public policy issue. As drones’ functionality and usage becomes more complex, they are met with fierce opposition over privacy concerns. Recently, however, despite these concerns, drones have been utilized on both a domestic and international level to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Frustrated by people’s non-adherence to the Center for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines, one drone enthusiast took matters into his own hands. Xavier Arthur used his drone’s speakers to convey messages about the importance of social distancing over New York City. While Arthur was only one person, his actions echoed many of the sentiments and strategies used by law enforcement, organizations, and individuals around the world.
On the domestic front, drones are being used to minimize contact and prevent the spread of coronavirus through monitoring. One organization, Zipline, has used drones to deliver medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical professionals and hospitals across the nation to ensure contactless delivery. In North Carolina, Zipline drones have delivered PPE to hospitals as well as delivered food and other supplies to food banks and homeless shelters.
Moreover, the Westport Police Department in Connecticut used drones equipped with Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) Camera technology to measure body temperatures, the distance between people, and coughs and sneezes from 190 feet away. Beyond helping identify symptoms of coronavirus, the drones can also provide information to the police regarding what areas need more or less police officers to more effectively enforce precautionary measures.
The impact that a program like Westport PD’s drone initiative could have on the rise or drop of coronavirus cases in the region remains untold. Due to fears of infringement on privacy, the citizens of Westport spoke out against the drones. As a result of the public outrage, the police department decided to end the program despite its capabilities to identify coronavirus symptoms and the feedback it could provide about police coverage.
Drones have been uniquely adjusted to address healthcare needs. For example, some agriculture drones which had the ability to store and spray pesticides have been used to spray disinfectants across surfaces in order to kill viruses. These agricultural turned disinfectant drones are currently used around the world to disinfect surfaces in public areas which is more efficient and reduces the number of people who are put at-risk by going outside to clean.
On an international level, drones have been met with much less push back. For instance, China employs drones to offer warnings about violations of coronavirus guidelines. There have been reported instances of drones telling people that they should have worn a mask before going outside.
In the United Kingdom, drones are being used by local police departments to give warnings to those in violation of the nationwide lockdown. Around the world, drones are being used to disinfect large areas to reduce the risk of viruses staying alive and spreading on surfaces. One Chinese villager used his personal drone to disinfect 172,000 square feet of land in a single morning.
In Seoul, South Korea, a government sponsored drone light-show displayed messages of positivity, gratefulness, and protective practices in the night sky. The government used 300 drones to give thanks to their healthcare workers and to remind people of the proper practices they should be using to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The final message in the light-show — “Cheer Up Republic Of Korea” — reflected the sentiment shared by people across the globe as the current pandemic continues to disrupt daily life.
While the U.S. may not be as open to implementing drones as other nations, the usage and functionality of drones will only increase as their healthcare capabilities become more helpful in combating the spread of the current pandemic.
What do you think about drones increased use in the healthcare response during the coronavirus pandemic?
“I believe that privacy should be the thing that governments should value the most. If they want to revoke that right then they should at least get the opinion of the people! Personal privacy far outweighs the potential benefits drones could pose.” Dylan Safai, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
“I think implementing drones into healthcare could be very beneficial because drones have the ability to gather more data on a population which can help isolate people with the virus as well as people that have been too close to those infected. Implementing drones in public areas could possibly slow or stop the rate of infection.” Eli Bull, 15, Rising Sophomore at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
“The benefits raised by integration of drone technology into our lives are indisputable. But so are the potential breaches of privacy. It should be up to the end user to decide whether or not they want that trade-off.” Jonathan Shi, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD