Drones and COVID-19


Responsive Digital Infrastructure in times of a crises. How drones can help during a Covid-19 pandemic.

4IR, Drones and COVID-19 in a RECESSION

The Novel Corona Virus has literally brought the globe to a standstill. The impact of social distancing during this pandemic is so massive that its effects on carbon emissions are visible from space.

Wuhan – before and after carbon footprints

Three Overlapping Events: 4IR Digitisation, COVID-19 Pandemic, and impending Recession

COVID-19 also happens to coincide during a latest wave of Digitalization, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR) and is expected to precipitate a pervasive Global Recession. This paper explores the role of technology and drones to assist society with the effects of social distancing and lockdown, and during periods of recession.


The promise of a responsive digital infrastructure.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a concept that was introduced in 2015 in a paper to the WEF, is a way of describing the advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, and other technologies, all of which are having a significant effects on society and form part of most government’s economic plans.


The global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first reported on 31 December 2019 by the World Health Organization country office following a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been confirmed as the causative virus of COVID-19. To date, COVID-19 has become a global pandemic and it is continuing to spread across the globe with social distancing and lockdown protocols being the main public health strategies to counter the spread.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).The most recent Coronavirus disease is COVID-19.

Accelerated digitization.
Here to stay. It is often said: “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” and the impact of social distancing on Digitilisation is evidence of this.

In the times of ‘touch-me-not’ conditions, drones, and other digital technologies, are man’s new best friends. Video conferencing, teleworking, tele-education, telehealth are among the many technologies being deployed to overcome social distancing during periods of lockdown, and of which many are expected to persist afterwards.

In a report on ‘The digital-led recovery from COVID-19’ Mckinsey (March 2020) claims that: ‘A digital future lies ahead’.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 has played a vital role in accelerating the adoption of the use of drones in a growing list of unconventional tasks, which highlighted ways on how drones can speed up the fight against coronavirus disease COVID-19 and strengthen the enforcement of the stay at home campaign. Covid already has had a permanent effect on for habits.

“Drones will be an essential part of the daily lives of humans and will be as vital as phones are to everyone today.”

Covid 19: Kicking the ball up the ‘digitisation’ curve

The COVID-19 crisis seemingly provides a sudden glimpse into a future world, one in which digital has become central to every interaction, forcing both organizations and individuals further up the adoption curve almost overnight. (McKinsey, 2020)

A world in which digital channels become the primary (and, in some cases, sole) customer-engagement model, and automated processes become a primary driver of productivity—and the basis of flexible, transparent, and stable supply chains. A world in which agile ways of working are a prerequisite to meeting seemingly daily changes to customer behavior. (McKinsey, 2020)
In some countries, like Malaysia, this push for digitization in amid coronavirus crises is a conscious one. This prioritization of digital technologies is ensuring they achieve a necessary critical mass while also changing consumer behavior. It seems that the novel coronavirus is likely accelerate 4IR.


The recession that is a natural consequence of the corona virus pandemic is already illustrated by a slew of growth reports and projections: Global contraction of -3% (from a growth projection of 3%); USA growth of -6%, China’s economic growth is the lowest in decades at 1.2% and a UK contraction of -35% in Q3.

“And the price of crude oil has just dropped to below $0 per barrel!!”


As we face down new challenges, we’ve always enjoyed a burst of new technologies, often surprising ones, to help make things better. Now, with the global pandemic upon us, techies are finding ways for both drones and robots to help slow the spread of COVID-19 infections. As everyone looks for ways to do what they can to help, here are some examples of how drones and robots have come into play. 


Below are a list of how drones have been put to use during COVI-19. These stories are a signal that drones are likely to become a common tool across the healthcare industry as well.

  • Some countries seeking to enforce a coronavirus lockdown have considered the use of drones manned with loudspeakers and cameras to assist law enforcement officials impose the lockdown
  • A police department in California plans to use two large drones for these purposes.
  • Westport (Connecticut, USA) police in a Flatten the Curve Pilot Program are going to be testing a ‘pandemic drone’ (made by Draganfly) that can monitor people’s temperatures from 190 feet away and detect sneezing, coughing and heart and breathing rates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Draganfly’s Pandemic Drone
  • In Nice, France, police drones ordered people along the seafront to remain indoors.
  • to walk dog in Cyprus
  • Get a date in Brooklyn
  • delivers toilet paper in Florida
  • Deliver car keys in China
  • Do crowd control in public places in the Netherlands
  • See if the citizens are enforcing the curfew and to control the citizens in Malaysia
  • Inform people to stay at home outbreak in Spain, using megaphones to give warnings to people
  • Transport medical goods transport in China:
  • The medical drone flew from the People’s Hospital of Xinchang County to the disease control center of Xinchang County.
  • This was the launch of the first ever urban air transportation channel used for the fight against COVID-19.
  • Countries using drone for public control in: Wales,Western Australia, China, Spain, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, and the U.K. Paris.
  • Or for spraying disinfectant: France, Chennai, India, and Surabaya, Indonesia, in crowded cities.
  • Crowd control in Limpopo. South Africa.
  • In Zanzibar, Tanzania, spraying drones are being deployed tofight Malaria.
  • Separately, drones have been used todeliver critical medical supplies or lab samples in areas without the proper infrastructure.

Police officers in Dubai are well known for getting to patrol in Bugattis, Porsches, and Lamborghinis. Since early in 2021 they also have a large fleet of drones with high resolution cameras with infrared and night vision capabilities as well as speakers to monitor for COVID-19 safety parameters, traffic, drug trafficking, investigate crime scenes, pursue suspects and inspect heavy trucks. The collected data are used to cite offenders with violations.

Of the 4,400 violations captured by drone technology in the first quarter of 2021, 518 incidents were of people failing to meet COVID-19 safety regulations, In some cases smaller violations like jaywalking and failures to wear a mask, the police simply deliver a warning to the violator through the drone’s speaker.


Not only drones, but robots are being used to keep humans safe while fighting the spread of the new coronavirus.

Back in January, America’s first known case of COVID-19 was “treated largely by a robot,”,The stethoscope-equipped robot helped take the vital signs of a man in his 30s.

  • And at Circolo Hospital in Varese, a hard-hit city in northern Italy, they’reusing six “robots nurses,”  It’s like having another nurse without problems related to infection… . conserve face masks,.. can also monitor equipment in the room — without ever needing to sleep.
  • In Tunisia you must show your “papers” to patrolling robots during their COVID-19 lockdown!
  • a robot in China that not only delivers meals, but also takes patients’ temperatures, gathers bedsheets, and evendisinfects the facility.
  • “Robots have the potential to be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls,” wrote an international group of robotic experts inan editorial in the journal Science Robotics, which advocated for “a fusion of engineering and infectious disease professionals with dedicated funding.”
  • thermal sensors with automated cameras and vision algorithms networked with security systems using facial-recognition capabilities “to retrace contacts of infected individuals” in order to alert them of possible infections, adding that “It is important, however, to introduce appropriate rules to respect privacy.”
  • Malaysia is also deploying a Medibot (at about $3,5000 ea) to deal with COVID-19.

The pandemic will increase interest in the use of robots to battle infectious disease.

Historically, robots have been developed to take on dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs.”

KEY WAYS in which DRONES contribute during Covid-19

As we have seen in search and rescue missions across the globe – navigating devastated areas destroyed by Hurricanes – drones have become powerful tools to visualize expansive areas and communicate in complicated areas. Drones, like robots, are naturally effective at minimizing human interactions, which – communications, remote actions, deliver, observe/sense (monitor), especially in treacherous areas/conditions from bomb disposal to combating COVID-19.

Drone technology is ready to break out into a mass service and reduce person-to-person contact. There are a few dozen pilot programs throughout the United States, raising the question: how can the use of drones be scaled up?

I. Inspection and Broadcast

These same capabilities have been critical to oversee and communicate in dense, urban areas during the panic around COVID-19. With drones, officers can more efficiently scan an area and broadcast a message, such as to put on your mask or remain inside if the area is infected. All while simultaneously keeping officials away from close contact with potentially infected people.

II. Delivery of Critical Supplies

When everyone’s staying at home, that’s the ideal time for robots to be making deliveries in a contactless way. Most drones can be easily modified with a payload drop mechanism to deliver packages up to 6 KGs, without risk to both parties.
This is particularly important in areas where the presence of the virus is confirmed, such as hospitals actively treating the virus.

  • Seeing the risk of a pandemic, local governments have often encouraged citizens to limit their exposure and remain in their homes, which has put strain on package and food delivery systems, which are themselves a potential vector of contamination.
  • While drone package deliveries aren’t at full scale yet –
    • with only a few prior global tests such as in the USand the Dominican Republic – they have proven to be an efficient and contactless way to hand off critical medical supplies.
    • “Medical delivery drones” were also used in China to:
      • fly quarantine supplies and medical samples,
      • this so-called urban-air transportation channel “significantly reduces contact between samples and personnel,
      • as well as improves delivery speed” — more than 50% faster than ground delivery.
      • decreased delivery time by over 50 percent as compared with road transportation,
      • took humans out of the process to decrease COVID-19’s rate of spreading.
      • brought COVID-19 testing samples to laboratories, which helped the quick diagnosis and quarantining of infected citizens.
      • were used to safely transport medical supplies into hospitals where COVID-19 patients are being treated. These areas would be dangerous to the average courier, who might contract the disease and then go on to infect even more people, but delivery drones make this task safe.
  • Zipline had already been delivering masks and gloves via drone in both Ghana and Rwanda since 2019, and it’s now seeking FDA approval to speed up its launch in the U.S.
    • made more than 60,000 medical deliveries in Rwanda and Ghana in the past few year
    • and are expanding to India.
  • A major Chinese logistics company made thousands of flights to deliver 11 tons of medical supplies and parcels to areas stricken by COVID-19.

Creating drone highways can allow medical and parcel deliveries almost immediately.,

  • Medical parcel and grocery delivery: Those who are at a heightened risk to COVID-19 stand to benefit more from drone services. They are already being urged to avoid highly trafficked areas to deter potential infection.
  • Residents of cities that rely on public transportation end up having very limited access to essential services such as grocery stores. Drones would effectively expand the number of options for grocery stores and other services in these cities, which would help with supply issues and maintaining social distancing.
Dedensify last mile in cities
  • Drones would also assist in remote areas, where grocery stores and other key services are not restocked as quickly.
Quick access to rural distribution points
  • Drones could also deliver goods directly to homes in rural communities rather than to a central distribution centre such as a grocery store.
Direct to rural homes
  • Dedensification of medical care: ..that their drones are able to reduce human involvement in the supply chain (a vector for infection), while reducing hospital overcrowding by making it more practical for non-urgent patients to receive care in local clinics closer to home. COVID
  • In addition to its existing role delivering blood products and medication, Zipline is acting as a centralized distribution network for COVID-19 supplies in Ghana and Rwanda.
  • Things like personal protective equipment (PPE) will be delivered as needed by drone, ensuring that demand is met across the entire healthcare network.
  • Neighborhood drop-off points or home delivery
  • Medical trial in North Carolina – with distribution area of 6,400km2 servicing about 10million people with a drone with a range of about 80kms outbound leg.

The proximity of technology based solutions is emphasised by the fact this solution can be rolled out to the entire USA in a time frame of 18 months!

III. Disinfecting Common Areas

  • Drones can be a game-changer in fighting coronavirus & facilitate spraying disinfectants in hospitals and public places like railway stations & bus stands where traffic is high.

IV. Sentinel Surveillance

  • While the temperature checking process has proven effective overall, it has one risk point – the personnel conducting the temperature checks. As they measure each person with a handheld infrared thermometer, they may come into close contact with the virus and become a spreader themselves.
  • To limit this one risk point, some teams are using drones equipped with infrared cameras to test temperature measurements.


Recessions lead to a many knee-jerk cost cutting reactions, with investments in innovative technologies frequently seen as ‘nice-to-have’ expenditures. On the contrary, such investments are often the one of there few ways to to create more value more efficiently, as is illustrated by its positive relationship with economic growth, as it leads to higher productivity, or greater output of respective countries.

Positive relationship between GDP and Innovation/Technology

The figure shows the positive correlation of countries with higher levels of Innovation and higher levels of GDP.
The imminent economic downturn will require companies to find meaningful ways to prepare for and weather a decline. One way to prepare a business for a recession – is to continue to invest in technology internal efficiencies, effectiveness and customer focus. When companies invest strategically in the right technology and service offerings, they are more likely to come out ahead after the market bounces back.

When the economic squeeze is on, digital technologies can help to improve Return on Assets (ROA) by finding better ways to ‘sweat your assets’, be it mines, pipelines or any other capital assets.

Experience shows that companies that move early and decisively in a crisis do best.
The disruptions of the coronavirus have underscored the crucial role of technology, from supporting remote working to scaling digital channels for surging customers. This insight is crucial because too often the overriding factor when it comes to technology has been cost.
We have not seen the end of the crisis. Nor do we know exactly when the recovery will come. But it will come, and the CEOs who can best prepare their businesses effectively for a more digital future will give their companies the best chance for a brighter future.


From Search and Rescue operations we have learnt that a UAV can perform a wide range of functions at a Point Of Interest/need (POI) which has been emulated in the responses to COVID-19.

drones in search and rescue
Drones in SAR operation

The UAV options for Search and Rescue can broadly categorised into 3 options:

Low cost ‘throw and drop’ fixed wing option where the fixed wing is launched by hand and drops the payload at the destination but with limited, or no, POI functionsManaged short range (15 – 30 minute) VTOL with a wider range of POI functionsManaged long range (60+ minute) VTOL with wider range of POI functions (ATLAS-T and ATLAS-V)

Read more about drones in Transport and Delivery here..