How drones could be used in the war on COVID-19
Exclusive: Drones once used to rescue beachgoers could soon break up illegal gatherings while others sprayed disinfectant on Australian malls, schools and playgrounds as part of a radical new plan to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
And the bold scheme, spearheaded by Westpac Little Ripper, could be flying in as little two weeks if it gets the go-ahead from aviation safety bodies, local councils and state governments.
Drones have already been used to disinfect public areas in other countries including China, where they sprayed 600 million square metres of land and infrastructure, and Spain, one of countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Westpac Little Ripper CEO Ben Trollope said the company came upon the idea through its partnership with drone maker DJI, and had now received seven agricultural drones to spray public areas such as Cavill Avenue at Surfers Paradise, or streets, schools, playground and outdoor gym equipment.
"We've never seen a pandemic like this before; none of us have experienced anything like this so we need to think outside the box and innovate with technology and come up with ideas to get things done," he said.
"We did it with bushfires and now we should be doing it with COVID-19."
Under the proposed scheme, Westpac Little Ripper drones previously used in surf rescues would fly over large gatherings on the beach to enforce social distancing rules and help keep beaches open.
The new agricultural drones would be fitted with eco-friendly disinfectant that could cleanse surfaces of the virus to prevent community spread.
The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study showing COVID-19 could live on plastic and metal for up to 72 hours.
"Ultimately, the most efficient way to doing it is with trucks and street sweepers but they can only get into certain places," Mr Trollope said.
"With drones, we can go down malls, over exercise equipment, playgrounds. This way we can disinfect airconditioning units on top of buildings, schools, nursing homes. It's not the entire solution but it's another way we can try to curb this pandemic."
The team is currently investigating different disinfectants, including benzalkonium chloride and Ozone, working to get clearance from the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority to fly at night, he said, and holding discussions with eight government agencies in Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania.
"We'll be offering this to state and federal governments," Mr Trollope said. "We're hoping we can get this running within two weeks. That what the regulatory agents are saying at the moment. We will push this as quickly and as hard as we can."
The potential drone program may not be the only way the technology is used to fight coronavirus in Australia.
Researchers at the University of South Australia are also working to create a "pandemic drone" that could be used to detect COVID-19 symptoms such as fevers and coughing from a distance.
And West Australian police this week announced they would also use drones to remind people of social distancing rules in parks, at beaches, and near cafes.
Originally published as How drones could be used in the war on COVID-19