Drones and COVID-19: How do these applications help and do these applications make any sense?

April 28, 2020 Season 2020 Episode 5
Drones and COVID-19: How do these applications help and do these applications make any sense?
Show Notes Transcript

Starting in April, the WSIS Team will host a weekly virtual WSIS TalkX the for the WSIS Stakeholders to interact, connect and collaborate. Preparing towards the WSIS Forum 2020, High-level Track Facilitators, Workshop Organizers, WSIS Prizes 2020 Champions and others will be conducting virtual interactive talks highlighting their linkages with the WSIS Action Lines and SDGs.

Join our fifth live session with Q&A on Drones and COVID-19: How do these applications help and do these applications make any sense?

The purpose of this webinar is to discuss how drones are being applied in response to coronavirus. The most popular applications to date include spraying, patrolling and surveillance, public announcements, cargo delivery, and measurement of body temperature. While some of these applications have already been debunked by science, they're still being used by many stakeholders in multiple countries. The supposed success of other applications is anecdotal at best while several raise important concerns around data privacy and data protection. Some of these applications also face important logistical hurdles and others completely ignore the digital divide. This does not mean that drones cannot add value, but it does mean that more critical thinking is needed along with a deeper understanding of the local context, actual needs, priorities, alternatives, cultures, sciences and technologies and the digital divide to evaluate the potential value of drones in response to the pandemic.

Moderator and Speakers:

  • Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics
  • Dr Ruchi Saxena — Director, India Flying Labs

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Ms Gitanjali Sah — Strategy and Policy Coordinator, ITU:   0:04
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, dear WSIS stakeholders, thank you for joining us today. Today for our 5th WSIS TalkX on Drones and COVID-19.  We have with us here today Dr PatrickMerier, who is the executive director of WeRobotics. I'd like to pass on the floor to Dr Patrick Patrick. The floor is yours.

Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics:   0:32
Thank you very much. Really appreciated. Thank you all for joining as well. Thank you again to our colleagues from WSIS, ITU for very kindly hosting this very timely webinar. It's really a pleasure for both myself and my good colleague, Dr Ruchi Saxena to have the opportunity to I speak with you all today and equally importantly to also taking questions and brainstorm together as a community. In terms of just the sequencing for today's panel, I will just kick off very briefly with a quick overview of Werobotics and Flying Labs. This is to really help set the context that you understand why we're even talking about the use of drones in response to the pandemic, in the first place. I will then give a very high-level overview of the different ways that drones are being applied across the world in response to COVID 19 and then I'll head it off to a good colleague, Dr Ruchi, who will give you her insights from where the action is from India and Nepal, which is where she is based on, can give you a much more direct understanding of what's possible with these technologies and any other questions that are still open.  

Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics:   1:57
So with that, thanks again for joining, WeRobotics, if you're new to be robotics is a local first organization. And what do we mean by local first? Well, you mean that we work with local experts to shift power to them by working directly with them by helping to build their expertise, by helping to create new opportunities for these experts based on their priorities. And we believe that local leadership is ultimately more important for positive social change than any techno-centric solution alone. And this is why we've developed a model we call the Flying Labs model to help shift power to these local leaders. And so this explains why local experts across Africa, Asia and Latin America are using this model to co-create their own knowledge hubs. And these hubs, known as flying labs, are led entirely by local experts who we train, equip and support as needed. Increasingly, flying labs train other flying labs, and they also partner, they team up together on joint projects. In addition, every flying lab is directly connected two government key actors in government, in the industry as well as civil society in their respective countries. And today that flying labs are operational in more than 25 countries around the world, across Africa, Asia and Latin America. And so the Flying Labs Network is a diverse network of local entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, doctors and more. And together they demonstrate the power of local and the power of local leadership in tackling local troubles. And so our role at WeRobotics, in the Flying Labs network is to help the facilitate knowledge exchange as well as technology transfer and to create new opportunities for local experts. And we do this through our four sector-based programs which are directly tied to the sustainable development goals. So, for example, our humanitarian program enables flying labs to deploy more effectively during humanitarian disasters, both large and small. Our health program enables flying labs to run their own cargo drone projects to deliver essential medicines and to collect patient samples. Our environmental program enables flying labs to work more effectively on climate change adaptation, agriculture as well as nature conservation. While our development program enables us to work more effectively on Carbon planning, property rights and sustainable development projects. Ultimately our goal is one of system's change. We want to shift the power to local experts across all sectors. It is the first step we are, as you've seen co-creating individual flying labs with local experts and enabling this flying Labs network to thrive again with local experts. The next step will be to spin off as its own independent organization deeply rooted in the global South and entirely led by leaders from the global South, and is a very final step. WeRobotics will then go on to use this experience to help transform other foreign first organizations into local first organizations. That's a quick background context for this specific topic. All flying labs make active use of drones across multiple sectors that you've seen from the program descriptions and obviously they are directly engaged in the response to covet 19 as well.  

Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics:   6:21
So I'm gonna shift now and just give you all a quick overview. A high-level overview of how these technologies are being used and will be very honest with you, in terms of what we're seeing as being impactful and what we're seeing is being very much less impactful. Then, as mentioned I will turn it over to Dr Ruchi, who will then give you. You know, the view from where the action is, and then we'll open it up for Q&A and look forward to your questions. So by all means, feel free to use the chat feature available to you on the Microsoft teams in order to start sharing your questions as they arise. You may have already seen quite a bit in the media. There's a lot of media is loving the use of technology and crisis. And so they're more articles coming out every day, it would seem. One helpful way to organize our thoughts here is through this very helpful diagrams. On the right-hand side, you see some applications that are under the title of delivering essential goods and services. The thing to point to keep in mind with respect to those particular applications that they are relatively mature applications. They've been around years before anybody had heard of the Coronavirus. And so those applications being mature certainly can add value in the response to the pandemic, and most likely he not necessarily the short term, but immediately to long term. So there we know quite a bit is already in the evidence base for the value-added of that technology, of those applications. The left-hand side, the applications under the title battling the spread of the virus are somewhat more novel and innovative. And so it's still early days to really understand the full extent of the impact that these technologies can have in different contexts and when applied in different ways. But there's already some evidence that has been gathered, and we will continue to together that. So I'm gonna go now, you know, from application to application relatively quickly and keeping it relatively high level. But then, of course, you know Dr Ruchi, and I'm more than happy to do a deep dive on any of these applications should they be of interest to you.  

Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics:   8:47
The 1st one, we will look at is spraying or fumigation. So drones being used to spray outdoor places, public places with disinfectants and all kinds of other substances also water a swell in the hopes of being able to reduce the transmission of the virus in particular and in densely populated,  areas. Now, what are we seeing in terms of the evidence for that particular application? I mean, I won't beat around the bush, If you look at the Lancet Journal, they had a study published just last month, and you see some of the quotes here. Based on this article, "this needs to be stopped, and by this I mean, they've been specifically the use of aerial spraying in the fight against COVID. It needs to be stopped, has no value is even potentially harmful to those who suffer from other kinds of respiratory challenges such as asthma and busy should be avoided". That's it. There's really not that much more to discuss that specific application of drums now. At the same time, a number of colleagues have said that may be true in terms of no value, no impact. But maybe on the mental health side, uh, this could have an impact because it gives a sense of the government being engaged on companies being engaged, organizations being engaged. They see it visibly, they hear it. And this could surly be an important source of reassurance. And we all know, And there's been plenty of studies over many, many years now that show that you know resilience is a function of this psychological well being and reassure, So that's not to be taken likely in any way. I think the point here to keep in mind is that there perhaps other ways to provide this kind of reassurance and psychological well being. Another very popular application that's getting a lot of media attention. A lot of interest there is being able to do, remote temperature scanning. So being able to be 50 meters away on a drone and having sensors and AI being able to determine what your body temperature is and also be able to automatically detect coughing, sneezing and other symptoms like these. Here again, and I won't beat around the bush. It would be nice if there was something to this But frankly, I would go Sparta's suggesting this is a very well-orchestrated hoax. Technology does not exist for this if you talk to the experts. In fact, they say, ideally, you should be 0.8 meters from the subject to start being able to take this kind of temperature reading. And, of course, that already you know is way closer than the physical distancing recommended by the WHO and also poses a huge risk because after all, drones are flying blenders and you do not want to have a drone pointed eaters from you staring in your face. But more importantly that the underlying research academic research is incredibly constrained. They only really done this in the lab within three-meter distance, where the subject is not moving where the lighting conditions don't change. So there's a lot of false advertising coming out of startups and press releases. To me, my real concern, if you'd like here, is where is the rule of investigative journalism? Anybody with just five minutes on there, they have available could usually do a few a bit of research and start questioning a lot of these baseless claims. So I would also with, together with spring, I would really park both spraying applications and the temperature scanning applications until you know new evidence comes to to the surface, that may no warrant reopening of those discussions.  

Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics:   12:59
1/3 popular application is broadcasting is having speakers either or megaphones, attitude drones or using drones that already have integrated speakers in order to share announcements more often than not related to remind individuals to keep their distance, respect the lockdown and so on. So here we're seeing mixed anecdotal results. If you're pro this application, you select the anecdotes that back your interests. If you're engaged this application you so like the anecdotes that you know show that this is having minimal to no to do impact. But the point is, there were seeing both. We're seeing some cases that work and others not where they don't work. For example, in Brazil and in Rwanda, what we've seen video footage of is broadcasting drones going out creating sharing announcements, and that picks people's curiosity. And so it actually congregates people together. It forms crowds who are curious, or in fact in Rhonda now the national police have to tell people as part of the announcement on the loudspeaker on the drone: Please do not come out of your house is to look at the drone. Right? Because it has this kind of obviously in many places, you know, I would go out if something happened like this in Switzerland. I want to know what the heck is going on. Right. So that's just something to keep in mind. Now, in some cases, it seems to be effective. So now the question becomes, well, what kind of social, economic, cultural, political and historical factors you know, help to determine an actual impactful use case versus not.  And what you announced in these recordings and broadcast messages is potentially really important, you know. This is where we want to look at advertising, you know, how do we do appropriate advertising that leads to behaviour change and maybe repeating what people have heard already 100 times may not be the most effective. So just to end with saying more, more evidence is needed and of course, like any of these applications, you know, what are the alternatives? Public broadcasting, public announcements have been available for thousands of years, if not longer. It's not because drones are now part of the picture that all of a sudden we could do, you know, a public communication.

Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics:   15:22
An important application that is also getting a lot of attention and this one is potentially more deserved is cargo delivery or delivery drones for patient samples for essential medicines and so on here. I would say that quickly, I want to speed things up here without talking too fast, but doing a rapid deployment of new cargo drone services in new countries where this is not what happened is the holy ground. That is where we as a community are headed. And there are a number of challenges there and being able to do that some are logistical, other are others are having to do with regulations, and others have to do with the limited expertise that may exist in a particular country. The lack of reliable, affordable cargo joint technology already been country. Now, that doesn't mean we're not seeing the cargo drone projects popping up. In fact, there at least 10 countries that we have identified where cargo drones are being used in response to COVID 19. For the most part, those are done by companies that were already cargo drone companies that have already been operational for many, many years and who are already in those countries who are already delivering medical supplies or patient samples before the current virus exploded. And so that's potentially more protection that is more realistic. If you have the services already place, it's a matter of expanding those services. And even if it's not related to medical supplies, we see that you know Google's Project Wing Cargo Drone services in Virginia and in Australia. They're delivering even more supplies that are not health-related, but there everyday kind of supplies, because people under lockdown in quarantine. So that's skyrocketing.  

Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics:   17:25
One point I do want to emphasize here is that a lot of these big companies will tend to overlook the most rural communities. The way their business models work is they're trying to carry out as many deliveries to as many people as possible in order to maybe gain a bit more return on investment. And so these companies will not set up drone ports in very rule areas where you have a very small and dispersed population of a few 100 people in one village, another fewer people in another village. These companies tend to especially one of the leading up these. It tends to do 600 flights a day, 600 deliveries a day, and in some of these dispersed communities, rule areas you might not need more than 600 a year. Therefore, those communities will be overlooked and that that's obviously incredibly problematic. And again, supply chain was not invented by cargo drones. There plenty of alternatives bikes, motorbikes and other conventional delivery systems. If you're interested in this space, we do have a peer-reviewed online training on the use of medical cargo drones in public health that we bite you to enrol in. And also we are monitoring the different applications of cargo drones in response to COVID. And so we have a lot more detail, that we could share with you. Simply go that ( Okay, I may just hurry it up here because I'm already taken too much time. But Serbians is not new. Um, this has been the main reason why drones were invented in the first place is to provide situational awareness. Again here we're seeing mixed results, some promising some less so but definitely overriding concerns having to do with data, privacy and government overreach. And it's quite telling that none of the cargo, none of the drone companies that are selling their surveillance drones and AI solutions ever bring up data privacy that never comes from their side. And again, there are plenty of alternative solutions. Possibly that would be more appropriate. The use of tethered drones to provide connectivity. 3G, 4G, lTE, potentially WiFi is a relatively new application right now. The conversations in relation to COVID are in relation to refugee camps, where the conventional traditional infrastructure communication infrastructure is not in place, so that could be something worth exploring. Further and again, maybe there's an easier, more cost-effective solution. Here in India, we're seeing some interesting applications of mapping. Of course, mapping is not new as an application but being implied here, especially when overlaid with population data, which is important as we did. The density facilitates the transmission of the virus.  Here we're seeing some different police departments across India using this approach and high-resolution imagery mapping from drones to help set up treatment centres, screening centres, we're seeing them using the maps for planning logistical rows in Peru, mapping areas that are usually high traffic in terms of foot traffic and car traffic. To get a sense of how much people are staying at home and so on. They're rather curious.  

Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics:   21:10
And the last use case I'll share with you is QR codes on these large posters. This is in chains in China, at the exit of highways. The government is asking drivers to scan its QR code with their smartphones in order to enable them to know who is coming, entering Shenzhen and from where. This is part of their tracing efforts. It's linked to a lot of other QR code tracing activities that they've set up in response to COVID, and we're definitely more information there. Okay, in conclusion, before you start deploying drones in response to the pandemic, we invite you to check out this graphic to help inform your decision making as to how you might be able to be impactful with drones and one I would like to share in terms of how I think a good use of our time right now with respected drones in the pandemic is in Nepal, where this senior Kathmandu Valley, our colleagues in Nepal, the Paul Flying Labs, has been looking to map Katmandu Valley for years, literally for years, together with three municipalities. But because it's a high traffic area, the airport is not too far away. And how you see the landing, the air plane's landing on a regular basis, it's been impossible to do these high-resolution mapping for urban planning, disaster risk, management's risk reduction and so on. But now, finally, because the air traffic has been so reduced, the municipalities in the qualifying laps have been able to finally secure flight permissions to start doing a high-resolution mapping of Kathmandu valley. I think that's an appropriate application to explore. I don't think I need to go through all the conclusions. I will just highlight a couple. There seems to be, not there seems to be there is, of course, there's a huge focus from donors, companies, organizations, international, multilateral. Everybody seems to be 100% focused on the Coronavirus. That is understandably understandable. It's also dangerous because unfortunately, COVID does not have a monopoly on disasters. We have already seen a cyclone five Category five cyclone in Vanuatu. We're seeing a major outbreak of dengue across Latin America. Those injected crises are going to be happening and are going to also make things a lot of works, especially when countries that are already affected by the virus get slammed with other types of disasters. So we need to make sure we keep an eye across multiple sectors and not just on one. And, of course, in the end, digital divide is very real. That's why many of the countries where we're seeing the use of drones in response to COVID, we're not seeing as many in those countries that don't have access to that technology as readily or the expertise because that expertise tends to be parachuted into these countries and then leaves when the former experts leave those countries a swell. So Thank you for your patience. Richi, I'm terribly sorry. I'd love to hand it over to you now.

Dr Ruchi Saxena — Director, India Flying Labs:   24:43
Great. Thank you so much, Patrick, for introducing me on for introducing our work at all the flying Labs. I'm here talking on behalf off. Let's see all the flying labs. But I'm talking from India and Naples. As Patrick said, this is all about the power of local. So the first thing which we had in the mind when COVID 19 struck and we were all locked in, under lockdown. The travel was the most important thing. That you cannot travel from one city to the other. That's the reason the local became even more important. Who are the local teams in major cities and what can they contribute? This was a question that we were trying to address. Talking about robotics. What we do B are engaged in various activities. But the most important of that is in their flying labs and the first major project that we are doing under India Flying Labs and care robotics. It's cold. You Evie Rapid Response Task Force. This task force was formed to address a similar issue, whenever there are disasters or emergencies. It is impossible for teams to get from one part of the country to the other. So we need to train and empower the local teams who had the drones available or the technology available and then train them to address emergencies and partnership with the government in the last two years. This is what in their flying labs looks like. This is a growing community and open collaboration where everybody is welcome. Whoever wants to contribute to the social good, would be welcome to be a part of a network.  

Dr Ruchi Saxena — Director, India Flying Labs:   26:13
So in the last month, this is what the teams in India had been doing. Surveillance, public announcement system mapping and our doctor infection. Talking about surveillance, it helps and reinforcing crowd control and social distancing. The collaboration what does it has been involved over you are mainly either you walk soon as an individual entity as an individual start-up or you walk together with other startups in the crowdsourcing model. So in this, we have more than 200 local drone owners activated in 16 states. Operation Waters is either the team accompanies the police or the drone pilots fly from the respective rules. Reporting waters are either decentralized or centralized. We're in each team, media reports to the respective police station or if they report directly to a central dashboard. This is one of the examples from Gujarat. If you see the density that I'm talking about, this is where you will understand. Probably vice surveillance worked in India and why this is probably an answer to similar densely populated countries like India. Public announcement systems. Why? Because addressing the people who are seen outside their homes. This was very important at that time on, the police could not divert alone. This was done using the loudspeakers, which amounted on drones and connected to either walkie talkie or the mobile phones of police officers'. What kind of messages were passed on? They were even motivating, Informing, urging or threatening? I would like to show you this video. If you see this. This is from a village wherein the drones were used A small town on I don't know if it's very clear to you. The drones were able to see some people who were outside. Just looking at the drones. But people were us to go back. I mean, this was a kind of really scary response. It's been circulated as a very funny video, but I don't see it funny. But the thing is, it did have the needed impracticable and people were gathering in crowds. They were responding to the drones. Mapping a couple of projects had used mapping off the valuable hot spots and the cordoned of hotspots. Why? they were using it to the market. The boundaries to mark entry and exit routes to block the roads by marking places for putting up barricades to mark points for the styling screening facilities and to guide various delivery companies like the food deliveries of the grocery deliveries companies which are now active. This is an example of one of the slum areas near New Delhi whether this was used, so this area has been marked of as a red hot area as a hot spot. These kinds of maps are helping the government do some more planning an activity. The question is, why not satellite images by drawn images? It's because it gives you clarity, especially in the densely populated areas.  

Dr Ruchi Saxena — Director, India Flying Labs:   29:15
The green screen was tried in some cities on day claim that it does something called a desert this infection or a meticulous infection, which I'm yet to decipher what it is. They either spray disinfectants or soap in water with the agriculture drone, with a capacity of 10 meters to 25 litres. Some have done it as a service. Some soldiers as it protects. What kind of doing mortars have been used> Either they're being DGI drones, which people already had. They were using it for surveillance, mapping and spring. Or it was customized drones like they were used in the public announcement when you use an existing room and you customize it. Third was custom made roads, absolutely new drones were innovated overnight for doing the public announcements or springs. I will show you one. No example off a small team in one of the states in a rural village was in the made drones, especially for delivering medicines in their five kilometres, five square kilometre area in a village. These were boys from the village who knew how to make drones, and this is how they there was a small boat attached to the drone, and the room was used to send medicine throughout the village. The challenge is that these people are facing is one recipe. There is no set recipe set in place across the country, wherein people can have a standard process which can be followed. The second was funding most of the people paid out of pockets. There was some CSR funding arranged. Crowdsourcing has been fired out. Some of the pilots have received some payments, others have not booked. Some of them have sold some drones and some projects that they have money coming from there. Next challenges insurance Boston Safety on centralized unmanned traffic management and identification or recognition of control of the drone teams by central and state government. So the government has been active only at the local level. But if we in ship, if he warned that the state and the central government also becomes active, we could not find that kind of support. If I do an impact assessment off what has happened, what has not happened. I will say that this has definitely been happy because they work got easier. It was impossible to control the crowds from where they will. They were always limited in numbers on they were finding it difficult to reach especially in slum areas where the streets for narrow. It was not possible for them to get to every place and look at what's happening throughout the city. The impact of mapping is yet to be determined. So goes for the outdoor spring. People are doing it, but none of the virologists has said that this actually works. So we're still waiting for these to understand what has worked and what does not work for us. This is an experiment which works. Why? because when we started up in the air flying labs, the only thing we had in the mind was, if a disaster happens. Will we all come together to solve a particular problem? So now when I see 300 drone pilots working alongside the government, I think we have achieved something. All of them have been able to strike local partnerships with the local government. They all have been recognized by the local government as, these are potential people who can come on board and had them out. So, so far so good. This experiment has worked for us. Beyond that, we are yet to watch.  

Dr Ruchi Saxena — Director, India Flying Labs:   32:36
So this is all evolving and there is something called the Learning Curve. You learn something, you try it out. It might be successful. It might freely. But there is always learning involved. I wouldn't say whatever, which is what has happened in India is completely foolproof. That have been security lapses, safety lapses that have been a couple of crashes. Incidences like that have happened, so they even yet to have to understand what and why and how to make it better. What kind of recipes would probably make about better? What kind of training programs have to be delivered? What we see is yes, passion is involved. There are passionate people who are ready to help out. So we have to just come or this passion into a profession. What I mean is professional standards. So once we achieved that little gap, we should be ready for the next disaster. Even most Markey. Over to you, Patrick.

Dr Patrick Meier — Executive Director, WeRobotics:   33:26
Thank you. That super stuff. Thank you very, very much, Richie. You're much more clued in on so many other applications in India, Nepal. It's great to see that activity and energy also being channelled in many good ways. So thank you, floors. It's been great. Thank you all very much for your engagement. Great questions. As you can see, we don't have all the answers. And that's why it's important to work together as a community to share the evidence, that was able to collect and all become more informed as a result to ensure that we have, more and more positive applications of this technology that have the meaning of meaningful impact that we all want to have through the use of the technology. So with that Ruchi, thank you very much for staying up and joining us. To our good colleagues at WSIS. Thank you so much again on hosting and getting this all organized for this event. Back to you all.

Ms Gitanjali Sah — Strategy and Policy Coordinator, ITU:   34:34
Thank you very much. Patrick and Ruchi. It was indeed a very, very interesting discussion and thank you for the participants for being so engaged in this important conversation. We'd like to remind you about Thursday our next WSIS TalkX will be on Thursday, so please join us. It is a very important topic on the threat of Social Isolation in old honourable populations. So please join us at the three o'clock Geneva time on the 30th of April. Thank you very much. Bye-bye..