As most of the world remains in lockdown, shut in to avoid human contact which spreads the coronavirus, emerging from this enforced hibernation will be a gradual process, say experts. They explain it is only possible with thorough testing so as to identify and then quarantine cases as they materialise. And a new study says that drones can be a key part of this plan.
The challenge for testing is that it may increase people’s exposure as they congregate at a hospital or clinic. According to dronedj.com, researchers at Sweden’s Linköping University considered another option: deploying drones to deliver covid-19 tests to residents and then returning the samples to a local medical centre.
To examine the idea, the research team modelled a drone-delivered test program for a moderate-sized city. They chose Norrköping, a city of about 137,000 located southwest of Stockholm, which has one central hospital. They also based their model on an actual drone built by Matternet.
The team calculated the most efficient routes to take through the city, and they made some concessions to improve quality of life. Drones would operate 12 hours per day, so as not to wake residents during the night. And they would fly at a leisurely 37 miles per hour.
According to the model, just 36 drones, each carrying 100 covid-19 tests, could visit everyone in the city every four days. That’s a very high rate of testing. Researchers say that even testing every resident once per month would significantly flatten the curve of coronavirus cases.
While Europe is theorising such programs, Africa is the done deal. This week, the US-based drone delivery company called Zipline began regular deliveries of coronavirus tests in Ghana, West Africa. The Ghanaian project does not deliver to individual homes, but rather collects covid-19 tests in rural regions and ships them in batches to central medical facilities in two cities.
Drone deliveries have proved especially appealing in remote regions where poor infrastructure exists. A drone can shave many hours or even days off transportation by truck. The Norrköping model is quite different, as it would be filling a dense urban area with a flurry of drone flights. Given the growing backlash to covid-19 enforcing drones, a testing program might have to work at assuring the public of its good intentions before it can take off.
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