A shortage of Covid-19 testing kits and the need to try to identify people infected with the virus to stop it spreading means governments are now turning to drones for help.


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As 3D printers help fix respirators, AI’s and supercomputers hunt for Covid-19 vaccines, autonomous vehicles disinfect streets and subways, drones patrol the open streets looking for people breaking curfews, and as robots staff increasingly autonomous hospitals looking after Covid-19 patients, now drone company DJI might have just found the most low tech solution to the problem of figuring out if someone has the coronavirus or not by involving some of its most high tech drones.


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So far coronavirus epidemic prevention units in China have been using thermal imaging drones to remotely check residents’ temperatures, so DJI, one of the world’s largest commercial drone manufacturer’s took steps to improve the precision of its own measurements taken using the thermal camera on the Mavic 2 Enterprise drone so they too could join the good fight, and their tool? A humble cotton swab.



The high tech drone with the low tech solution. Courtesy: DJI


DJI’s engineers found that sticking a cotton swab on their drones improves the accuracy of measuring a person’s temperature by acting as a reference for calibrating the drone’s thermal imaging camera which can then be used to fly over people who are outdoors and peer into people’s windows who are in self isolation to check whether or not they have a fever. Whereas the drone’s accuracy could have previously been off by as much as 4˚ to 5˚ Celcius (7.2˚ to 9˚ Fahrenheit) the addition of the swab reduces the margin of error to just 0.5˚ Celsius (0.9˚ Fahrenheit) under standard conditions, the company said.


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The Mavic 2 Enterprise drone is equipped with a FLIR Lepton thermal micro-camera, but it was created for industrial use, meaning it wasn’t made to measure body temperature, so the cotton swab turned out to be the key to improving the camera’s accuracy, although obviously, officially, DJI still doesn’t recommend using its drones for coronavirus testing.

DJI said the cotton swab is “an emergency solution created by their engineering team in three days,” adding that they “still recommend using professional medical equipment,” but it’s also trying to find new ways for their tech to fight the spread of the deadly Covid-19 disease.


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“When the drone finds someone who is feverish, the temperature abnormality is displayed through the UAV remote control screen,” said Zhang Xiaonan, head of DJI Enterprise, and so far DJI’s drones have been used for remote temperature detection in many communities and at road checkpoints.

But that’s not the only way drones are proving useful in the battle against the coronavirus. UAVs have also been used for spraying disinfectant over roads, helping with the construction of Wuhan’s temporary coronavirus hospitals and dispersing public gatherings – including using a mounted megaphone to scold people for not wearing masks.

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Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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