Draganfly to deploy drones to detect coughing, signs of infection

Draganfly's drone detection system includes sensors to detect coughing and fever and will be deployed in a partnership with Australian authorities. (Draganfly)

Among the many ways that technology companies are trying to help with monitoring COVID-19’s spread and treatment, unmanned airborne drones will be used to detect infections among people at a distance.

Draganfly, a maker of commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), announced Thursday it has been selected by Australian authorities to provide engineering, integration and distribution help for immediate deployment of the drone technology.

Draganfly has developed the detection gear with the University of South Australia and Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group along with Vital Intelligence Inc., a healthcare data services company. The project has an initial budget of $1.5 million, Draganfly said.

Using a range of sensors and high definition cameras networked with intelligence software, the drones can detect infectious and respiratory conditions, even monitoring temperatures and heart and respiration rates of people gathered at convention centers, border crossings, places of employment, aboard cruise ships and even in some locations at senior care centers. 

Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell said the system can “from a distance detect fever, which is much different than just temperature.” In addition to cough detection, the system can detect respiration, heart rate and blood pressure. He referred to a video of a person detected from a drone with an imaging system. The system can be used to “help establish an early warning system,” Chell said.

In an interview in February, Chell said airborne infrared sensors can be used to read a person’s facial temperature at a distance. Draganfly on Thursday put  the distance for the whole system at up to 60 meters. The advantage of the technology is that drones don’t have to fly close to a person or a crowd to get information, and first responders will have an indication of illness without getting close. Facial recognition software could also be used to sort out individuals.

RELATED: Coronavirus detection envisioned with airborne drones

The technology was originally envisioned for future relief in a far-away place. “Now, shockingly, we see a need for its use in our everyday lives immediately,” said Javaan Chahl, Defence Science and Technology Chair at the University of South Australia.

New technologies are immediately needed to detect and track outbreaks around the globe “so that critical inventions can be deployed sooner and with greater effectiveness,” said Jack Chow, an adviser to the Vital Intelligence Project and a former World Health Organization official.

Elsewhere, a variety of organizations—large and small—have stepped up to offer unusual approaches to making needed medical supplies and technologies.

In one example, a Bacardi Rum factory is being used to produce hand sanitizer. The common element is alcohol.

In another example of cooperation, 3D printers are being  deployed by multiple groups to make face shields.

RELATED: COVID-19 sparks rise in ad-hoc mask making

Ford Motor also said it was teaming with 3M and GE Healthcare to make protective gear and even ventilators to treat patients

RELATED: Ford, GM, GE team with UAW to make ventilators and makes for coronavirus

On Wednesday, Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak said on CNBC that the company has increased production of its critical care ventilator machines and is working with automaker Tesla, which will produce another model of ventilator for use in hospitals outside of critical care specialties.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Wednesday that a New York plant will reopen for ventilator production.

General Motors announced last week that it was partnering with ventilator manufacturer Ventec Life Systems with manufacturing, logistics and purchasing to increase output.

And Dyson, of  the vacuum cleaner world, has designed and built a CoVent ventilator as well. 

Semiconductor maker Xilinx also said this week it has supplied thousands of Spartan-7 devices to Mindray in China for powering patient monitoring systems in Wuhan. The company is also working to support large medical suppliers in the U.S. with technology to test and treat COVID-19.