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Gearing up with smart drones: En-route to tackle the Covid-19 mayhem

  • Published at 02:35 pm July 1st, 2020
D2_July 1, 2020_Gearing up with smart drones
File photo of a drone Courtesy

Do artificial intelligence and thermal imaging make drones one of the strongest tools to fight Covid-19 pandemic? 


Over the centuries, epidemics and infectious diseases took tremendous tolls on human societies. With scientific advances the effects of epidemics seemed to have wane. One of the more effective technological inventions available now is the ability to operate unmanned robots, particularly drones that can provide unprecedented coverage in surveillance. That might soon become a game changer in fighting the ongoing and future pandemics, especially ‘smart’ drones. 

Why 'smart' drones?

While the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) continues smoldering over the population, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) thermal imaging (TI), GIS and mapping, automation, autonomous drones and UAVs, etc are taking the lead in providing technological solutions. 

It is clear that the current situation requires government authorities and law enforcement agencies to adopt a modern scientific approach to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Countries like China, Japan, France, USA and Italy that have enhanced technological resources relied on a vast surveillance network to patrol its citizens during the pandemic. 

This is where drone technology steps in. Right now, drone startups are making back-to-back profit. Governments are turning towards the smart drone technology on a broader scale. Drones are revolutionizing the concepts of surveillance and monitoring, broadcasting and inspection, disinfectant spraying, medicine and grocery deliveries, thermal checking, and survey mapping. AI and TI in drone technology are going to play a crucial role towards the new normal. 

Drones and AI: redefining the possibilities

AI is a computer powered machine that can emulate human-like intelligence, do multiple sophisticated tasks like understanding human language, reasoning, problem-solving, data mining and even visual recognition. Sounds interesting, right? 

AI focuses entirely on cognitive skills. To do that AI absorbs data from the environment, analyses it and manipulates that data to actionable information. What is truly astounding is that through algorithms AI can actually teach the computing device to learn the data execution process all by itself. Also, AI programming can help to choose the right algorithms and can even rectify them.

Let’s see how AI is reshaping drone technology. While dealing with image recognition, drone sensors (like electro-optical, stereo-optical, and LiDAR) can produce a wide range of data. So, we need a smooth data processing system. With the help of a Neuro-Flight Controller, drones equipped with Artificial Neural Networks can execute the actionable information a lot quicker. Thus, AI makes these drones from smart to super smart.

For mass-surveillance during Covid-19 pandemic, these AI-driven drones can easily monitor and identify the citizens in both indoor and outdoor environments. A California based drone startup called Airspace Systems is producing similar drones to monitor social distancing and face-masks while hovering midair. Law enforcement agencies can now monitor and identify super spreaders of Covid-19 in any mass-gatherings with these AI-driven drones.

Drones and thermal imaging: demystifying temperature detection

Thermal Imaging is a technique to convert infrared (IR) radiation into visible images. These images as a whole can depict the spatial distribution of temperature differences in a scene viewed by a thermal camera. 

The TI system can correctly evaluate someone's surface skin temperature. What that means is that the TI system is a key to identify symptomatic Covid-19 spreaders with unusual elevated body temperature. In such a case, the operator of the TI scanner does not require to be physically close to the person who is being scanned. These days TI scanners are also available in every single airport around the globe to further restrict the mass transmission of Covid-19.

Another important question worth asking is why do we still need drones and thermal cameras when we have easy access to TI scanners on the ground. The main difference is that drones don’t have to be confined to any particular area, unlike ground based stationary scanners. The law enforcement officers can quickly dispatch them for large scale temperature measurements in any area.

One of the most innovative Chinese companies, DJI has recently partnered with FLIR to develop the Zenmuse XT2, a powerful thermal imaging camera that can be mounted on a DJI drone. According to DJI, these drones can safely diagnose cases of elevated temperature from a distance of three metres away.

Draganfly Innovations is the name of another success company in the race against Covid-19. It is a Canadian startup that develops and manufactures drones and aerial video systems. Recently, their team has designed a special prototype titled Pandemic Drone for detecting Covid-19 carriers. These drones can detect a possible infection at a distance of 190 feet and will monitor heart and respiratory rates in addition to body temperature.

Artificial intelligence and thermal imaging are not the only ways drones are helping in the battle against Covid-19. Despite some controversies, AI and TI-made decisions can have serious impacts on people’s lives. However, it is worth noting that an appropriate ethical culture should be practiced by each government before opting for dynamic solutions. It must be ensured that the privacy of a law-abiding citizen is not violated.

The author is currently busy petting his sweet feline animal. Leave him alone for a while at [email protected]

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