How drones are helping with COVID-19, first response applications

October 21, 2020  - By

A solution for these COVID-19 days, getting to injured people really fast, and potentially even faster first response applications are all new drone applications featured in this month’s UAV summary.

As people welcome back football this fall — although playing in empty stadiums – most people are staying home to watch the game on TV. Even though some sports teams like the MLB Dodgers resorted to cardboard cut-outs of fans, maybe to encourage players, nothing beats having real people stamping and cheering in the stands.

So its not surprising that when the Atlanta Falcons play the Carolina Panthers this month at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they are planning on having a limited number of real live fans at the game to cheer on the teams. Even in these pandemic days of social distancing and masks, it would seem that a reduced number of fans might space out well in the huge 71,000 seat capacity stadium.

But the drone angle comes with the clean-up afterwards — 71,000 seats, handrails and partitions take a lot of manual wiping down – so the Atlanta Falcons are bringing on disinfecting drones to do the job, potentially with only 5% of the effort it normally takes.

There are two D1 drones being used in Atlanta supplied by Lucid, each equipped with a 2.5-gallon tank filled with nontoxic disinfecting chemicals. The sanitation solution is distributed by specially designed ‘electrostatic nozzles’ which spray evenly and mist the area as the drone passes over.

Disinfecting drones have been used before in places which include several locations in China, the city of Dubai, and company EagleHawk in New York offers drone sanitizing for stadiums and other large public facilities. If this approach works we’ll probably see it in many more stadiums in an effort to safely bring back the fans.

Not sure how this next item fits into the unmanned category for this month’s article — because its certainly manned. But what the heck, its certainly interesting and worth a whirl.

Jet packs have been around for a while, but the U.K. company Gravity has come up with a configuration that appears to be reliable and works well. They recently pitched their system for search and rescue in the Lake District — a mountainous area in the North West of England which is extremely popular for hiking, walking and climbing. So visitors will sometimes get hurt falling off a ledge or a high path on the side of a mountain, or just tripping while walking and injuring an ankle, leg or knee. The rocky hilltops, mountains and many lakes of the Lake District attract around 15 million visitors each year, so there is plenty of opportunity for injuries.

With five miniature jet engines and carrying around 35 liters of jet fuel, the Gravity system range/endurance isn’t that great, but boy is it quick if you want to run up the side of a mountain to find an injured hiker. So more rapid response rather than search — provided you already know where the person is located.

The system is powered by a double jet-engine held at the end of each arm and a single engine with equivalent thrust housed in the actual backpack. Altogether, over a 1000 horse power, which is apparently enough to pick a person up and keep them suspended at around 10 feet off the ground. Guess you would need quite some strength to hold onto the arm units, supporting one-third of your weight on each arm, but apparently you get some level of stability assistance from a flight control system in the backpack.

A recent demonstration test in the Lake District with the Great North Air Ambulance Service certainly showed off the suit’s capability to go from the foot of a mountain up to near the crest of the hill in no time flat. Then a regular air-rescue helicopter was immediately called in to take the victim to hospital. However, the current system apparently costs somewhere around $400,000, so its doubtful it will show up for anything but special appearances and demos until there has been significant engineering cost reduction.

The "Recruit" hi-speed drone is aimed at rapid first response users (Photo: Sonin)

The “Recruit” hi-speed drone is aimed at rapid first response users (Photo: Sonin)

Sonin Hybrid has taken another angle to building a drone by developing a hybrid gas powered propulsion system which charges the vehicle’s batteries while in flight, uses a lightweight carbon-fiber frame with folding landing-legs, and is able to fly at up to 140 mph when pressed to do so. Nominal cruise flight is at 60mph, and flight endurance is claimed to be up to 3 hours – over 5 times that of similar competitor drones.

The Recruit’s options include a stabilized 4k camera, a night vision/IR camera, 30x optical/12x digital zoom camera, a 6k lumen spotlight and a loudspeaker/siren.

With several trials currently underway with first responders, Sonin is eager to establish the requirements for police, fire and military applications. Let’s hope that the trials all involve getting eyes on a location as quickly as possible so hi-speed drone capabilities are needed. Otherwise all the drone racers will probably scoop up these 140mph puppies.

So to enable people to perhaps return to watching sports in person during the ongoing pandemic we have drones pumping disinfecting spray all over sports stadiums which can potentially save huge amounts of manual cleaning effort, provided they can adequately sanitize the target areas — specialized spray nozzles help. Then we have a jet-pack system which was demonstrated getting to injured people as quickly as possible to administer immediate care, followed up by helicopter air rescue. And finally if you want a hi-speed, lightweight drone with good payload capability, Sonin has launched the 140mph Recruit aimed at first responders who need a very quick first response.

These are all completely different applications, all with completely different solutions.