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Covid-19: In the times of ‘touch-me-not’ environment, drones are the new best friends


They say necessity is the mother of innovation. In a coronavirus-stricken world, that could mean asking someone out for a date, using a drone. It so happened that a man in Brooklyn sent a drone to his neighbour with his number attached on the device and got himself a cute date.

In India, utilizing the technology for an even greater purpose, the Karimnagar Commissionerate of Police in Telangana recently used drones to ensure effective implementation of lockdown in the town. In the times of a ‘touch-me-not’ environment, authorities have found a friend in the drone management system.

“As remotely piloted devices, drones are naturally effective at minimizing human interactions, which is crucial when the same officers meant to safeguard the communities can potentially become vectors for the virus to spread,” Prem Vislawath, co-founder and CEO, Marut Drones, told ET Digital.

Marut Drones, which was established in 2018 with the aim to kill the mosquito population by spraying insecticides on infected lakes, are now helping the Telangana government use the drones for disinfectant spraying, monitoring public for crowd control and delivering medicines, among other purposes.

By now it has become a common knowledge that the novel coronavirus is transmitted via respiratory droplets and has the tendency to spread by touching contaminated surfaces like metal, floors and other surfaces indoors and outdoors. All states in India are mandatorily disinfecting contaminated areas to prevent the spread of the virus. However, the transmission of the virus is so rapid that these efforts by the government may find it difficult to catch up.

“Moreover, there is a danger of health workers getting infected,” Vislawath said, adding that this can be avoided by using drones. He explained that Marut drones can be used for spraying disinfectants in public spaces like airports, railway stations, parks, SEZs, warehouses, etc. He claimed that drones disinfect 50 times more area than traditional methods in a given time and at the same time keeps human operators out of harm’s way.

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In the Mukarampura area of Karimnagar, 10 Indonesians and 1 local had tested positive for COVID19. Karimnagar Municipal Corporation has deployed customized drones of Marut Drones for spraying disinfectants at these areas. They were sprayed at public places like District collectorate, Municipal Corporation, district hospital, bus station, auto stand, markets, Police Commissionerate and Rythu bazars.

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Pic: Marut Drone

“The drones can carry upto 10 litres of disinfectant and cover about 20 km a day. A human being can cover about 4-5 km a day, whereas a drone can cover 20 kilometres,” he said. Apart from spraying disinfectants, Marut drones have Public Monitoring and Warning Drones equipped with a camera and speaker to monitor high risk places for crowd gathering and give relevant instructions to the crowd using the fitted speakers.

“It was seen that European countries like Spain and France have used loudspeaker fitted drones to urge people to maintain a safe distance outside of the house and to discourage travel but at a much later stage,” he explained. Other services of drones include detecting the human body temperature in crowded places. While government personnel have been deployed to personally check temperatures of individuals, the personnel conducting the check are at an equal risk of contracting the virus.

To avoid this, the Marut drones team tested different ways to use airborne infrared cameras to measure body temperature. “Results showed that by installing a cotton swab within the field of view of the thermal camera, the camera can get an accurate reading. The calibrated drone camera can then be used to measure body temperatures while the officer remains at a safe distance away,” he said, adding that however, the solution is not designed to be used for standard medical procedures and data needs to be reverified with manual methods before taking any action.

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Coming to one of the most crucial services, Marut drones are helping in delivering medicines and other vital supplies, reducing the need for human contact and also speeding up the process. “In fact, it was observed during our recent trials that drones covered a distance of 12 km in 8 minutes, which is 80 times faster than traditional delivery,” he said.

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Pic: Marut Drone

A boon

The contactless services by drones seem to be no less than a boon during these times. With the similar objective, drone tech firms such as FlytBase and GarudaUAV are also lending a hand in ramping up contactless operations by drones.

Pune-based FlytBase has launched its #FlytAgainstCovid19 initiative to help government and public health workers fight against this pandemic. It has made its flagship product FlytNow Pro free to be used for various services till May. “FlytBase is working with drone operators and drone service providers who are directly working with police and government authorities to conduct aerial patrols during the current lockdown,” Achal Negi, Head of Business Development, Flytbase, told ET Digital.

A fleet of drones is helping police see live video feeds over 4G/LTE from areas around the city at a central location. The drones are fitted with HD cameras, thermal cameras and loudspeakers. Apart from this, other services of FlytBase drones include delivering medicines, first aid kits, and emergency supplies to homes and hospitals and aerial disinfection at scale.

“First responders, whether police, firefighters or health workers, now needs to be themselves protected against the virus during incident response. Sending drones before people must become an integral part of such operations,” said Negi.

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GarudaUAV is also in touch with the local police and administration in Noida, where the crucial requirement is better surveillance to track and manage vehicular traffic and crowding of people in public places.

“Our primary drone type is the multi-rotor which has a great hovering capability. We can fly and hover the drone at a certain altitude and geo-coordinates to conduct real-time surveillance using thermal and RGB camera,” Brijesh Pandey, co-founder, GarudaUAV told ET Digital, adding that the drones could have proved useful in the recent fracas at Anand Vihar, Delhi to manage the large crowd.

For GarudaUAV, the biggest challenge during this opportunity is to assemble the right kind of drone in this lockdown when spares and parts are not immediately available. “Also, payload customisation for non-regular use cases is another challenge. Further, our drones are currently deployed at different locations across India. Moving them across the country is another challenge,” he explained.

On the other hand, Negi mentioned the slow adoption and implementation of this technology as a challenge for drone startups. “With the pandemic expected to last a while, the government has to quickly adapt and leverage autonomous drone technology to mitigate the adverse effects of the novel coronavirus,” he said.

In the meantime, acknowledging that the drones are the need of the hour, Marut drones have not charged for their services. However, the team is trying to reach out to organisations such as DST, Banks, Agnii and MNCs like Google, Facebook who are supporting startups to combat Covid 19.





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