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Drone will detect people with infectious conditions


By Blake Kebblewhite

As the Covid-19 pandemic takes control throughout Australia, the question turns to how to detect infection early and slow the curve.

The University of South Australia in partnership with Draganfly Inc, a Canadian drone technology company, is working on developing a ‘pandemic drone’ to remotely monitor and detect people with infectious respiratory conditions.

The drone will be fitted with a specialised sensor and computer vision system that can monitor temperature, heat, respiratory rates, whilst detecting sneezing and coughing in areas of social gatherings.

Led by Defence Chair of Sensor Systems Professor Javaan Chahl, he says the technology could be a viable screening tool for the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It might not detect all cases, but it could be a reliable tool to detect the presence of the disease in a place or in a group of people.”

In 2017, Professor Chahl, alongside Dr Ali Al-Naji and Asanka Perera, achieved global recognition, demonstrating image-processing algorithms that could extract a human’s heart rate from drone video. Since then they have found that heart and breathing rate can be accurately measured within 5-10 metres of people, using drones at a distance of up to 50 metres.

The technology was first envisioned for war zones, natural disasters and remotely monitoring heart rates of premature babies in incubators.

“Now, shockingly, we see a need for its use immediately, to help save lives in the biggest health catastrophe the world has experienced in the past 100 years,” Professor Chahl said.

As the infection rate grows, this technology is needed urgently to stop one of COVID-19’s most challenging issues, community transmission.

Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell says his company will use its sensor, software and engineering expertise to work with UniSA.

“We are honoured to work on such an important project given the current pandemic facing the world with COVID-19.

“Health and respiratory monitoring will be vital not only for detection but also to understand health trends,” Mr Chell says.

With this they hope to integrate and deploy to government, medical and commercial customers to use during this ongoing pandemic, allowing for them to detect slow down infection rates against one of the Australia’s deadliest enemies in over a century.

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