The University of South Australia (UniSA), in partnership with a Canadian company is developing a ‘pandemic drone’ to remotely monitor and detect people with infectious respiratory conditions.
UniSA will be partnering with Draganfly, Inc to immediately start integrating commercial, medical and government customers. The team is being led by Defence Chair of Sensor Systems Professor Javaan Chahl.
According to the university, the drone will be fitted with a specialised 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.
Professor Chahl, working alongside Dr Ali Al-Naji and Asanka Perera, had in 2017 demonstrated image-processing algorithms that could extract a human’s heart rate from drone video.
The have since demonstrated that heart and breathing rate can be measured with high accuracy from distances of 5-10 metres of the human subject using drones, and at distances of up to 50 metres with fixed cameras.
They have also developed algorithms that can interpret human actions such as sneezing and coughing. This could potentially allow for remote screening of possible carriers of the virus, an attractive proposition in this age of social distancing.
Professor Chaal says that says the technology could be a viable application in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, even though it was originally envisaged for use in war zones and natural disasters as well as remotely monitoring heart rates of premature babies in incubators.
Referring to it potential application in detecting COVID-19, he added that “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.”
Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell says his company will use its sensor, software and engineering expertise to work with UniSA to integrate and deploy for government, medical and commercial customers.
“We are honoured to work on such an important project given the current pandemic facing the world with Covid-19. Health and respiratory monitoring will be vital not only for detection but also to understand health trends,” Mr Chell says.