Draganfly’s technology is being used to carry out a series of test flights with a ‘pandemic drone’ in Westport, Connecticut. Westport is located near New York City, and is currently considered to be a COVID-19 hotspot with 17,550 confirmed cases in the state.
The drones are being deployed by the Westport Police Department through a drone program that was launched in 2016. They include technology from the University of South Australia (UniSA) and the healthcare data specialist Vital Intelligence.
The drones themselves are comparable to camera-based solutions that have emerged in the past few weeks, insofar as they use thermal imaging to watch for individuals with an elevated temperature. Fever is one of the symptoms of COVID-19, so identifying (and isolating) those who may be infected can help slow the spread of the virus.
“First responders are looking for effective ways to ease the spread of COVID-19 and keep their communities safe,” said Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas. “Drones help our officers acquire quality data to make the best choices in any given situation.”
The difference is that the drones are not tied to a physical location. They can patrol an entire area to watch for people with a raised temperature, or for people who are failing to observe proper social distancing practices. That gives them far more reach than thermal imaging tech that is placed in a local sensor for access control at one specific venue.
It also raises potential concerns about the encroaching surveillance state. However, it is worth noting that the drones do not use facial recognition technology, and they will primarily be deployed in public, high-risk areas where people are likely to gather in large numbers. That includes state beaches, parks, train stations, and shopping centers.
The drones can detect a possible infection at a distance of 190 feet, and will monitor heart and respiratory rates in addition to body temperature. They will also watch for other common signs of illness, such as coughing and sneezing, especially in large crowds.
Though it is not using drones, China is using thermal imaging for similar ends. Reports have indicated that authorities have integrated infrared scanners into the country’s vast surveillance network to try to contain COVID-19.