Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

UniSA and Draganfly develop drone to detect Covid-19

Steve Rogerson
April 7, 2020

The University of South Australia (UniSA) is working with Canadian company Draganfly on a pandemic drone that can remotely monitor and detect people with infectious respiratory conditions such as Covid-19.
The drone will be fitted with a sensor and computer vision system that can monitor temperature, heart and respiratory rates, as well as detect people sneezing and coughing in crowds, offices, airports, cruise ships, aged care homes and other places where groups of people may work or congregate.
This is part of the Vital Intelligence Project with Vital Intelligence, a healthcare data services and deep learning company with the UniSA, using technology developed with help from the Australian Department of Defence Science & Technology Group (DST).
The UniSA team is led by defence chair of sensor systems Javaan Chahl. Chahl, working alongside Ali Al-Naji and Asanka Perera, achieved global recognition in 2017 when they demonstrated image-processing algorithms that could extract a human’s heart rate from drone video.
Since then they have demonstrated that heart rate and breathing rate can be measured with high accuracy within 5 to 10m of people using drones and at distances of up to 50m with fixed cameras. They have also developed algorithms that can interpret human actions such as sneezing and coughing.
Chahl said 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,” he said, adding that the technology was originally envisaged for war zones and natural disasters as well as 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,” he said.
Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell said his company would use its sensor, software and engineering expertise to work with UniSA to integrate and deploy for government, medical and commercial users.
“We are honoured to work on such an important project given the current pandemic facing the world with Covid-19,” said Chell. “Health and respiratory monitoring will be vital not only for detection but also to understand health trends.”
Jack Chow, advisor to the Vital Intelligence Project and the former first assistant director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on infectious diseases, added: “With fighting epidemics rising as a global priority, new versatile technologies, such as humanitarian mission UAVs, are immediately needed to detect and track outbreaks so that critical interventions can be deployed sooner and with greater effectiveness.”