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Drone delivery: Covid-19 could be tipping point for opening dam to technology promised for a decade

International news website reports that as a measure to help contain the coronavirus, an online register system for vehicles coming back to Shenzhen has been put into use since February 8th. To increase the efficiency, local police officers used drones to carry a QR code at the expressway exits for drivers to get registered for less contact with other people.

China’s use of unmanned craft and robots in its fight to contain covid-19 is now well publicised, with medical authorities and security forces employing autonomous agents to limit human contact and create social distancing to slow down the spread of the virus.

e-commerce companies like Amazon and Uber as well as others have been talking about the promise of commercial drone services for some years, where such craft can deliver prepared food, groceries, medicine and other online purchases directly to the consumer in a matter of minutes.

This new market, according to analysts, could be worth more than USD27 billion by 2030, but has been slowed down by lack of government policy and regulation. Could the demands of fighting covid-19 actually fast-track the introduction of drones to the masses?

The benefits of drone delivery have already been demonstrated by China’s response to the coronavirus emergency. In an effort to increase the speed of medical deliveries and remove unnecessary human contact, they have been used widely in the country’s virus-stricken provinces.

Companies like e-commerce giant, drone delivery start-up Antwork, drone maker MicroMultiCopter and China’s largest private courier company SF Express, have all deployed unmanned craft to help deliver medical supplies and transport medical samples for analysis. By using drones, healthcare authorities are assured of faster and “contactless delivery”.

China has also used unmanned craft fitted with thermal cameras to scan crowds and identify those that may be in need of medical treatment; they have been carrying sanitisers to spray densely populated communities and police security drones have reminded city pedestrians to wear protective face masks. Chinese drone manufacturer DJI mounted loudspeakers on their craft to help police disperse crowds in public places.

Although drones have been used for emergency food delivery by government authorities, commercial services haven’t moved beyond pilot projects. Yet, as governments across the globe look for ways to prevent the spread of the virus, fast-tracking contactless delivery options makes enormous sense.

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