Supporting COVID Prevention Using Drone Technology

By Sweta Daga

“During the lockdown period there were two things happening in parallel,” says Smit Shah, the Director of the Secretariat for the Drone Federation of India. “One, as a country we had never been home for such a long period of time and it wasn’t just one area, but the whole nation. Second, because the national government had put in place strict protocols, the local police had the burden of taking care of whole cities and towns. It became a struggle for them to enforce the government’s rules because there was not enough manpower, and understandably, at times people were meeting in large groups. However, this meant that cases were going up and municipal corporations got worried.”

The Drone Federation of India (DFI) is a non-government, not-for-profit, industry-led body with a community of 2000+ pilots and private drone companies. “Before the lockdown, we had been working with the Mumbai police on other projects so when the lockdown was announced they reached out to us again for support,” he continues. “They needed innovative ways to spread the message about COVID.”

Abhishek Modi, who is part of the ACT Grants team, explains, “In order to implement the proper lockdown procedures, police forces were deployed on the streets across cities. They were ensuring that there were no vehicles on the roads, that people were safe, and they were also spreading awareness about COVID. However, with a police force to population ratio of 150 per 100km, they are very understaffed, and given how infectious this virus is, there had to be strict adherence to the rules. When we heard about DFI, and saw their work, we realized that they could really help with prevention.”

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A policeman working with DFI in Bombay

Drone technology helped support the police by ensuring that containment zones were monitored, and road barricades were in place and being followed. It also allowed the police a way to remain safe as well.

“We applied a three part method,” Shah says. “We had trained drone pilots go onto their rooftops or terraces and fly their drones in a 1.5km radius to monitor areas and report back to the police. We had on-ground teams working with the police in real time, and lastly we attached speakers to drones that were able to deliver messages in very dense areas in several languages. One example is in marketplaces. In many marketplaces, people didn’t follow social distance, or were not able to because marketplaces are quite dense, but with drones we were able to see where people were crowding. Once we identified those locations, the police were able to plan barricades better, and they would even go to those places and draw chalk circles on the ground, encouraging people to keep apart even when waiting in line.”

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A drone shot of Chembur

Deputy Commissioner of Police Sanjay Bhatia IPS shares his experience of how Delhi Police used drones in their operations to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CAKty_7gjfM/

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Credit — Instagram account of Drone Federation of India

Shah further adds, “We were able to really scale up when we collaborated with ACT Grants. We had almost all volunteers working with us, and we were only in one or two places, but we were able to provide some basic support to our volunteers and work in more places when ACT Grants supported us. For DFI, we wanted to show people how drones can be helpful in disaster relief.”

During the peak lockdown month of April, DFI was operating in about 15 cities, and enabled over 8,000 drone monitoring flights.

Editing — Sneha Banerjee

We are backing ideas that are capital efficient, scale ready and can create immediate impact to combat Covid-19.

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