Globally, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. India is fighting its battle bravely against COVID-19. In just a few months, Coronavirus has pushed public health authorities to develop new ways to deliver healthcare. While even the developed countries are struggling with technologies to contain the COVID 19 pandemic, When the Greater Chennai Corporation, Tamil Nadu was looking for appropriate and effective solutions for disinfectant spraying, as a first of its kind in the country, Dr. K. Senthil Kumar,Professor & Director – CASR, Anna University(AU) immediately responded by deploying its drones originally designed to spray pesticides for agricultural applications adapting them to spray disinfecting chemicals in public spaces . Coronavirus is mainly transmitted via respiratory droplets and can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces. Disinfectant spray helps reduce these transmission mechanisms.
Anna University deployed its fleet of 4 nos of spraying drones in highly crowded/inaccessible areas, Hot Spot Regions of Chennai for about 15 days and covered around 40 lakh square meters with 240 Drone working hours, 1200 Successful take off & Safe landings(for disinfectant refill), at 1/10th of the disinfectant consumption and 20 times faster area coverage, efficiency, and consistency compared to manual spraying methods, thereby proving in realtime, the prowess of Anna University Drone Technology. This has been made possible because of the continued research efforts by Anna University over the period of 20 years, with financial assistance from Government of Tamil Nadu under various schemes as Tamil Nadu Innovation Initiative Scheme(TANII) etc and also support from its various MOU partners. This contribution of Anna University not only helped the government in effectively responding to a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) situation but also helped in alleviating the fears of the public who were in panic and distress.
This drone deployed to combat COVID-19, is our latest invention and another World’s first product. It’s a world-class drone carrying a payload of 16 litres of disinfectant, flying on petrol, capable of covering 6 times more area than battery-operated drones, and operates with lowest operational costs. As a product made in India, support is just a phone call away, unlike all other imported drones.
In the longer term, such deployment of drones by Anna University can provide lessons for how public and private health systems can incorporate drone technology into their planning to mitigate future pandemics.
To ensure the efficiency and safety of aerial disinfection operations, IISC, Bangalore has published an advisory document on Drone based disinfectant spraying missions to contain COVID-19 outbreak by aerial disinfection, providing the necessary operational guidance and technical specifications and to make sure that all efforts were conducted in a safe and scientific manner.
Apart from aerial spraying and disinfection, the drones can also be an effective tool in responding to COVID-19, in the following areas:
Transport of Medical samples – Delivering medical samples by drone from remote locations as far as 20 kms to approved testing labs can significantly reduce unnecessary human contact throughout the transport cycle. It can also speed feedback for critical tests needed by patients and medical workers. The aerial transport will significantly confine the flow of people, avoid unnecessary physical contact and prevent secondary transmission during this crisis of life and death.
Delivery of Consumer Goods – Drone delivery of consumer items can ensure that people have access to food and other goods and make it easier for citizens to keep to recommendations limiting human contact. In just a few days, several drone delivery corridors can be put in place enabling contactless delivery and replacing unnecessary drives.
Crowd Monitoring and Public Announcement – Drones are an highly effective medium for disseminating the targeted, customized public announcement message to the public as compared to phone or television broadcast. It is also effective for public surveillance to ensure effective lockdown.
COVID-19 Drone Lessons
The coronavirus outbreak has led to significant experimentation with many emerging technologies, including drones.
Drones need to be integrated into planned health responses. The results from Coronavirus response efforts should be able to preplan how drones will be used during disease outbreaks and make appropriate investments rather than relying on ad hoc experimentation. As the world continues to tackle this crisis, these lessons can reshape how we protect and care for people during health emergencies.