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The ever-widening spread of the corona virus is dominating the news. It seems likely that a pandemic is inevitable. The world is in crisis. Yet history has taught us that it is precisely at these moments that humankind comes up with creative solutions, innovations and new insights. This week, Innovation Origins takes stock of what innovations in the technical and scientific fields lie in front of us which directly stem from the Corona crisis.

According to the RIVM (the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment), The Netherlands added 8 more infections today, bringing the total up to 18 patients. In Germany, the number of infections doubled and the count there now stands at 134. In China, the country where it all started, there were 573 more infections on Sunday and another 202 today. China is taking all kinds of measures in order to curb the spread of the virus as much as possible. One of those measures uses drones.

Keep human contact to a minimum

It may be a bit of a lonely thing to do …¬† But you can use these devices to keep human contact to a minimum. When patients no longer have to go to the pharmacy and have their medication at home, pharmacy staff are far less likely to be infected. And China is now using drones to transport face masks and other medical equipment from one hospital to another too. They also deploy drones which are normally used to spray fields with pesticides. These have now been modified and are being used to disinfect potentially infected areas.

There are even drones flying around that warn if too many people are walking too close to each other or if someone is not wearing a mandatory face mask. And there are drones that can actually measure the temperatures of people on the street via infrared cameras. All in aid of preventing the further spread of the virus.

Using agricultural drones in another way

The Chinese company DJI, one of the world’s largest drone manufacturers, is allocating US$1.5 million to contain the spread of the virus. Among other things, this money will be used to convert existing drones that have been used in agriculture for spraying crops. These will subsequently be used in cities.

Following extensive research and numerous tests, these drones are now spraying disinfectant by air. The Chinese company states that they’ve already disinfected 30 square kilometres this way. The drones are primarily deployed above factories, hospitals and residential areas. But they are far from finished. Because in Shenzhen, where flying is now in full swing, an area of 600 square kilometres still needs to be disinfected. Disinfecting an area with drones is, according to the Chinese company, up to fifty times faster than traditional methods. Aside from that, this is less risky as employees don’t need to be present in the infected areas. They operate the drone by remote control from a distance.

The distribution of food is another task that drones might be extremely well suited to. Especially now that millions of people are forced to stay inside. Many people are finding it difficult to get hold of any food. DJI is also working on new sensors and infrared cameras. They’re doing this so as to be able to monitor people without endangering personnel.

Dutch lockdown

Early this February, the Japanese Terra Drone Group made its first ‘flight’ with medical devices between the disease control centre of Xinchang County People’s hospital to Dashiju, a hospital site a few kilometres away. Autonomous flights not only ensure that drivers no longer need to travel through infected areas, but it is also 50% more efficient than transport by road. That’s what the Japanese company says.

We can’t say whether it will ever get that far here in The Netherlands. Or if millions of people will have to stay indoors. But if it does, the ILT (the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate) will have to grant permission for drones to be flown. Drones are not allowed to fly over built-up areas in The Netherlands. Under normal circumstances, it takes about sixteen weeks to be granted such a permit. According to a spokesperson, all sorts of things have to be taken into account. Although safety for local residents is paramount, of course. It also counts whether a drone will be used commercially or for the benefit of the public. That would undoubtedly be the case with an eventual Dutch lockdown. However, the ILT doesn’t wish to rush things, as the situation has not advanced that far as yet.

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