Coronavirus: should the UK use drones to disinfect public spaces?

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pilot a drone over a children's park

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XAG

Legend

XAG drone flies over children’s playground in China


A group of drone experts is calling on the UK government to relax regulations on chemical spraying of air during the coronavirus pandemic.

He wants to train drone pilots from the emergency services to spray disinfectants in public places.

This has been done in China and India – but aerial spraying is widely prohibited in Europe.

Drones can cover large areas – but there is a debate over the effectiveness of the method.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare has stated that there are no plans to disinfect the exterior on a large scale.

“Experts say that disinfecting outdoor spaces would not be an efficient use of resources,” said a spokesperson.

“We want to focus our efforts and resources on the measures that have been recommended by scientific experts to have the greatest benefit in protecting the NHS and saving lives. “

At this time, Public Health England only recommends decontamination if there has been a possible or confirmed case of the virus.

The director of health and safety made no comments.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which oversees the safety of drone flights, said it was not involved in the decision.

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Harper Adams University

Drone pilots would be more protected than people who walk the streets or drive vans with spraying equipment because they would be further away, said Jonathan Gill, of Harper Adams University in Shropshire, who spent four years researching spray drones used on agricultural crops in several countries outside Europe.

“Spray drones would keep people away from boring, dirty and dangerous tasks,” he said.

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Media captionTrucks in Tehran cover neighborhood with disinfectant

The disinfectant would likely drift from its target and travel further than expected, he said, but other forms of disinfectant distribution would do the same and specialists have calculated the best nozzle type and size. droplets to target hard surfaces.

“Doing something is better than doing nothing,” he added.

Director of Chinese Investment Connections Robert Pearson, who works with Chinese company XAG, who claims that his drones have disinfected more than 902 square kilometers (350 square miles) in 20 provinces of China, said, “It’s not one solution – but it’s an important part of the arsenal. “

“A drone can spray 600,000 m² per day – that’s the equivalent of 100 workers. “

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Harper Adams University

Last month, DJI announced that it had adapted its agricultural drones to spray disinfectant on more than 3 km2 in the city of Shenzhen, including “factories, residential areas, hospitals and waste treatment plants”.

But this month, a spokesperson told BBC News: “The effectiveness of using drones for spraying disinfectant is still being tested.”

And a note on their blog shows that the company stopped doing it.

“DJI will continue to work with professionals from the medical and scientific community to provide the most effective form of assistance possible,” he added.

Steve Wright, associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of the West of England, said UK drone laws are safety-oriented.

Accidents and malfunctions had to be taken into account, as well as the relatively short battery life between charges.

“All of our legislation is about preventing failure,” he said.

“However, now people are working the numbers and saying,” Is the danger of flying a drone over a public park greater than the danger of not doing so? “

“In times of crisis, people’s attitudes towards technology are completely transformed. “

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