Drones enforce social distancing in Covid-19 hotspots

Small and micro drones are now playing an important role in the fight against Covid-19. Drones from companies like ideaForge are helping local authorities enforce strict social distancing protocols in hotspots.

“Social distancing is the most effective way of fighting against coronavirus” – Shri. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, India.

“We have one of the most powerful weapons against this virus. We’re not defenceless. And that weapon was the social distance and is the social distancing” – Dr Robert R. Redfield, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States.

South Korea has been, up until now, far more successful in containing the rapid coronavirus spread. They had, at one point, most cases of Covid-19 outside of China.

“Social distancing played a role in restraining domestic group transmissions by some 70% during the first 11 days compared with the last 11 days before it took effect” – Park Neung-hoo, Health Minister, South Korea. “If the number goes down to 50 or lower, stable treatment of the patients including the critically ill will be possible without much pressure on the system”, Park summarized.

Now, they have flattened the virus curve. They are consistently reporting less than 50 cases in a day.

Ground reality of Social distancing during the lockdown

When this article was written, India had identified 170 hotspots. Out of these, 123 had large outbreaks and 47 had clusters of cases. The hotspots are demarcated in red, orange and green based on the active cases within them. If a red zone hotspot doesn’t show a case for 14 days, it’ll be recategorized as an orange zone. Another 14 days (total 28 days) it will be pushed to be a green zone.

This transition is only possible when people follow strict social distancing norms.

Police and on-ground emergency services are constantly guiding citizens to not gather around shops, in the streets or even on rooftops. It’s critical that we move from Red to Green (zone) within 28 days. However, there are cases of lockdown violations and people open flouting social distancing norms keep repeating. This is stretching the work for the already overworked on-ground officers.

The police and local authorities are faced with some operational issues:

  •       lack of resources (personnel and capital) to effectively patrol each street and bylane
  •       delayed response when people on the streets social disregard distancing norms
  •       direct contact between police officials and random people on the streets (raising the risk of infection for the officials)

How drones enforce social distancing in Covid-19 hotspots

ideaForge has previously worked with the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) and the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) on many occasions. They were, once again, called upon to help the police and municipal corporations in Maharashtra, Delhi and Assam.

Drones enforce lockdown

These drones boast of high-endurance. This helps them fly faster, better and longer even in tough environmental conditions. This brings the necessary consistency, rigidity and agility in the fight for social distancing.

This is how drones helped Mumbai, Delhi, Sangli and Guwahati police.

  •       16x to 25x increase in total area under surveillance
  •       3x increase in overall surveillance speed
  •       45% to 50% reduction in emergency response time

Beyond the numbers, the drones helped:

  •       reduce the workload of on-ground forces by increasing their visual reach and efficiency,
  •       keep the police and emergency service professionals away from direct interaction with people on the streets (and help ensure their safety),
  •       improve regular beat patrolling (using drones to even cover narrow bylanes and high rooftops),
  •       quickly detect and respond to people gathering outside shops on the streets,
  •       boost the overall enforcement of social distancing through regular message broadcast (through speakers on the drone), etc.

Enabling real-time social distancing with drones

We have seen that social distancing is critical in breaking the cycle of the coronavirus spread. We have also seen that drones are helping local police officers and municipal corporations to boost the efficiency and visual reach of their resources; improve social-distancing enforcement; help sustain the safety of on-ground forces (especially in hotspots).

Let’s look at how these things unfold in the streets.

Quick detection of social distancing violations

  •       Police in Mumbai, Delhi and Guwahati used ideaForge drones to ensure that people don’t gather outside shops. There have been instances of people, under the influence of misplaced food insecurity, indulging in panic buying. This has seen people standing side-by-side around vegetable markets or shops.
  •       Drones helped quickly spot such instances and initiate on-ground intervention (crowd dispersal). Early detection and action helped contain the situation without undue escalations.
  •       Police in Delhi used ideaForge drone-enabled thermal imaging to effectively survey even during the night.

 Surveying hard-to-reach areas

  •       Mumbai has seen Covid-19 clusters develop in congested slum areas like Dharavi and Worli-Koliwada. Mumbai police and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) used ideaForge drones to regularly survey the 535 acres of narrow lanes and close-knit shanties (in Dharavi).
  •       The live encrypted feed from the drones was sent directly to a nearby van equipped with a simple ground control station. They could immediately spot people gathering outside their houses.

Megaphone interactions with people chatting on streets

  •       Thane police (and Thane Municipal Corporation) used ideaForge drones to directly interact with people on the streets. The drones are sturdy and stable to effectively and efficiently carry megaphones/speakers as payloads. The speakers were connected directly to a police officers’ walkie-talkie.
  •       The officer could directly pin-point messages (speaking through the drone) to individuals and ask them to disperse head home. It has been highly effective as people respond faster and (appear to be) more vigilant from thereon. The drone acts as a neutral interaction point which negates any possible protest and, hence, offers better results. It’s simple, not many would argue with a drone.

Drones are being used in many cases to help ensure strict social distancing. This social distancing would, gradually, help us flatten the curve of Covid-19 spread in the country. This would help contain the virus and still open up the economy in parts.

If you want to get back to normalcy (as much it would be in the current scenario), the only solution at hand is social-distancing. Practice it, propagate it and inculcate it. We have been (mostly) disciplined up to this point. Let’s make the rest of this lockdown, the homestretch.



October 2022

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