Drones are playing a growing role in the fight against Covid-19, according to recent data from London-based data analytics and consulting firm GlobalData. The firm cites increased use of the “disruptive” technology as organizations and governments look for ways to contain the spread of the virus.
Manish Dixit, principal disruptive tech analyst at GlobalData, cites growing interest in drones to “ensure social distancing, conduct temperature checks, monitor public gathering, spray disinfectants, deliver medicines, along with surveillance and monitoring, among others.” The trends are based on information gathered from the firm’s Global Disruptor Intelligence Center, which includes proprietary databases, primary and secondary research, and in-house analysis, according to the company.
Although interest is growing, questions linger about the most effective and proper use of drone technology. While unmanned vehicles hold the potential to remove humans from the risk of infection, there are challenges to implementing them effectively, including back-end technology issues and broader privacy concerns.
This spring, Connecticut-based drone developer Aquiline Drones (AD) announced the launch of a drone-dedicated cloud to help address the IT issues, allowing companies to better manage and power drones. Company Founder and CEO Barry Alexander said the firm’s AD Cloud allows companies in any industry and geography to build their own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) solution, tailored to their needs, that can be integrated into the AD Cloud. Specifically, Alexander said AD Cloud can program UAVs and unmanned ground-based vehicles (UGVs) with cloud-based command and control (C2) to conduct “mission-critical exercises,” including:
AD Cloud was deployed this month and a public launch is slated for June.
Privacy issues remain a concern as well, especially as governments around the world begin using drones for surveillance and monitoring. Dixit says drone manufacturers are working with regulatory bodies in the United States to ensure they comply with established guidelines and norms, but the topic is still evolving. He said governments around the world are “formulating laws” to address data privacy usage restrictions for both private and governmental drone owners, for example.
Alexander agrees that the topic is evolving and adds that it is “highly contentious” as well. He says AD’s Covid-19-related efforts remain focused on health and safety applications, including sterilization of public spaces and delivery of pharmaceuticals, human tissue, and organs—programs that are “squarely focused on mitigating and minimizing risk of human exposure” to the virus.
“AD refrains from making public statements or undertaking any projects or actions that violate—or could potentially violate—civil liberties and rights,” Alexander said. “There are many applications for drones and drone technology that are less intrusive but definitely beneficial in achieving the end goal when mitigating Covid-19.”
Such efforts are already underway. In February, Chinese e-commerce company JD Logistics announced plans to use drones for medical supply delivery in China. The move comes alongside wider industry efforts to increase use of autonomous mobile robots as a way to improve operations and reduce human exposure to the virus.