'Pandemic drone' could be deployed to combat coronavirus

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'Pandemic drone' could be deployed to combat coronavirus

Defence researchers adapt survivor spotter.

A ‘pandemic drone’ could soon join the fight to control the coronavirus outbreak by monitoring crowds and autonomously detecting symptoms thanks to Australian defence researchers.

A team at the University of South Australia has partnered with Canadian drone technology company Draganfly to immediately begin integrating commercial, medical and government capabilities.

Led by UniSA’s defence chair of sensor systems, Professor Javaan Chahl, the team will look at adapting computer vision systems that can detect a person’s temperature, heart rate and breathing rate with high accuracy from a distance of up to 5-10 metres away.

Separately, the researchers have also developed algorithms capable of interpreting actions like sneezing and coughing.

Possible applications from the device could include monitoring of crowds, offices, airports cruise ships, aged care homes and other places that people congregate.

The computer vision algorithms can also be applied to images captured by stationary cameras for use where drones aren’t practical, which has the added benefit of increasing the distance from which accurate measurements can be taken to 50 metres.

Professor Chahl said that while the technology was originally envisaged for use in war zones and natural disasters, it could be a viable screening tool for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It might not detect all cases, but it could be a reliable tool to detect the presence of the disease in a place or in a group of people,” Chahl said.

“Now, shockingly, we see a need for its use immediately, to help save lives in the biggest health catastrophe the world has experienced in the past 100 years.”

Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell said his company will use its sensor, software and engineering expertise to work with UniSA to integrate and deploy for government, medical and commercial customers.

“We are honoured to work on such an important project given the current pandemic facing the world with COVID-19. Health and respiratory monitoring will be vital not only for detection but also to understand health trends,” Chell said.

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