The coronavirus infection is raising global concerns, and rightfully so. Within a few weeks, tens of thousands of people have contracted it, and nearly 500 people have died, with an estimated mortality rate of 2 percent among those infected. China has taken actions to limit exposure and to minimize the spread, as have other countries as well. But even routine activities—from shopping to deliveries, to an array of other public activities—are now a concern. Thankfully, drone technology might offer some assistance.
China has been one of the most assertive nations in utilizing drone technology. Thus, it only seems fitting that drones offer potential solutions in dealing with the deadly coronavirus. Naturally, drone surveillance and monitoring are considerations, especially when promoting home quarantines to prevent disease spread. But China is being much more creative, using drone technology to spray disinfectant. And a few businesses are helping lead the way.
China’s Use of Drone Technology to Combat the Coronavirus Infection
Several social media posts have shown one way China is using drones to reduce the spread of the coronavirus infection. Equipped with loudspeakers, drones have been hovering around Wuhan and other areas to help enforce safety measures. Law enforcement officials most commonly operate these drones. Should a drone come upon someone not wearing a face mask or staying outside without a good reason, they react. Polite yet forceful (and somewhat amusing) reprimands are given to the individual spotted. In essence, these individuals are “publicly shamed” by the drones into putting on their masks or going indoors.
Certainly, this type of “Big Brother is Watching” strategy encourages compliance with safety measures. Still, China has more recently employed other innovative ways to use drone technology to fight the coronavirus infection. In alliance with Guangzhou-based agricultural drone company XAG, drones are dispersing disinfectant spray over large areas. Disinfectant sprays are targeting bus and train stations as well as public spaces to reduce surface contact spread of the coronavirus infection. And this use of drone technology is highly efficient. Drones can routinely cover more than 16,000 square meters quickly, with XAG boasting a coverage area of 300,000 square meters.
China’s use of drone technology in reducing the spread of the coronavirus infection is continuing to explore new approaches. Recently, drones have been seen checking people’s temperature to determine if they have a fever. This development has been reported not only at populated traffic stops but also along outside balconies in high-rise apartment buildings. In addition, China has also been using drone technology to ensure that waste disposal policies are being followed. In areas that are high-risk for a coronavirus infection onset, drones monitor hospitals and clinics to ensure compliance with protocols. Whether or not these measures are helping is less clear. But at the very least, the use of drone technology for these activities reduces further human exposure to the virus.
China – A Different Culture for Drone Technology Use
The use of drone technology in China is certainly different when compared to its use in Western cultures. The use of drones has expanded along with the use of surveillance cameras and facial recognition software. Thus, Chinese citizens are accustomed to seeing drones perform several routine activities. For example, drones are used to supervise traffic congestion and violations. Some even issue fines for infractions like jaywalking. And recently, drone technology has been used to help illuminate dark construction sites. This detail has been noted recently in Wuhan, where construction efforts needed to proceed quickly.
Notably, other uses of drone technology extend well beyond the current applications in deterring the spread of the coronavirus infection. In some instances, drones are used to proctor and monitor student examinations. Likewise, drones routinely patrol border areas to monitor illegal Muslim immigration. Given that these drone activities are not hidden but in fact, made widely known, Chinese citizens have grown used to their presence. And while some don’t agree with these activities, there isn’t a way to prevent drone use for these purposes.
(READ MORE: China Bets Big on Face Detection)
Can Drone Technology Make a Difference?
Naturally, some human rights activists see China’s use of drone technology as violations of privacy. However, there is some debate concerning that when it comes to managing a potential epidemic involving the coronavirus infection. The World Health Organization recognizes these types of measures may be appropriate when a global emergency exists. But specific criteria in defining what represents a global emergency and appropriate surveillance use can vary in interpretation. In any case, China is not likely to reduce its use of drone technology now or in the future. The coronavirus infection simply provides an opportunity to justify drone use to solve social problems.
Understanding this, we can still appreciate the potential impact drone technology could have on our lives in the future. Indeed, opportunities exist where drones could enhance efficiency and safety in a variety of ways. XAG, as well as other drone companies, are demonstrating some of these opportunities now with more likely to follow. Drones are already providing delivery services, video surveillance and agricultural assistance. But future uses, such as virtual reality entertainment, will soon become common as well. Regardless of one’s opinions of how China is using drone technology today, the country is leading the way in many areas. That is evidently clear based on their use of drones in managing the coronavirus infection today.