The Aerial Mobility industry is providing Next-gen technology to combat next-gen problems
The role of technology and disruptive mobility solutions had a cemented station in the technology sphere across the globe, and a defined and measurable rate of progress, for the most part. Two months ago, that all changed with the rapidly spreading COVID-19 outbreak from China, straining medical personnel, first responders, local, nation, and global political organizations, and the economy worldwide.
Many of the advantages of the future generation of aerial mobility technology relate primarily to the unrealized functionalities, and possibility, that unmanned, on-demand aerial mobility transportation tech provides to the world in unique situations with use cases that aren’t currently defined. Here are a few ways that COVID-19 is accelerating the development and deployment of aerial mobility technology worldwide.
Surveillance Drones Enforcing Quarantines
Billion dollar industries don’t normally emerge overnight, but in Shenzhen, China, home to over 70% of the world’s civilian drones, surveillance technology that was previously used for surveying and real estate applications has been repurposed to support the enforcement of curfews. Forbes and the South China Morning Post overviewed the details of how some surveillance drones are helping to enforce the curfews that are estimated to affect some 50 million residents. Shenzhen Smart Drone UAV’s were the primary use case for reconfigured platforms.
Chairman of Shenzhen MicroMultiCopter Aero Technology, Lu Zhihui, has performed the same reconfiguration of surveying and mapping drones that can be geared with loudspeakers, thermal sensors, 40-times zoom lenses and flood lights to help enforce quarantines, if necessary.
According to SCMP, MicroMultiCopter has 100 drones to local authorities in 11 Chinese cities since the outbreak led to citywide quarantines in late January. The company is also working with government agencies that include the police, transport department and local marketing divisions that promote and advertise the restrictions. Lu stated that each drone can patrol a 10 square kilometer urban area in an hour, saving the work of more than 100 police officers in dozens of patrol cars.
Lu also added that MicroMultiCopter plans to more than double its production to 5,000 units this year, from last year’s 2,000. Lu did not comment on the list price of the technology.
Corollaries in Disaster Relief
Across continents, the benefits of using drones is clear: the European Emergency Number Association, in collaboration with drone maker DJI and Research Firm Black Channel, determined that drones find those needing rescue significantly faster than ground-based Search and Rescue (SAR) methods. This corollary doesn’t apply directly to COVID-19 response, but it does underscore the specific advantages that drones have over other aircraft and ground based system in natural disaster relief scenarios.
Rapid Transport of Medical Goods
Aerodeli, an Antwork branch company, gained the first commercial drone delivery license from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in October of 2019. Since February 6th, 2020, the company has been utilizing their technology for safe transport of medical sample technology.
GPS World Magazine categorized Aerodeli’s work as “RA3 and tr7s drones and unmanned RH1 station [that] are ensuring that medical samples and quarantine materials can travel with minimal risk between Xinchang County People’s Hospital and Xinchang County’s disease control center. The automatic, unmanned air delivery system significantly reduces contact between samples and personnel, as well as improves delivery speed.”
Both the rate of transport of these samples, and the safety with which the samples are being moved both contribute to the value proposition of aerial mobility technology as a key enabler for addressing the complicated societal problems of the future. Drones require limited human interaction, save sample loading and unloading, and the rate of transport has been reported as up to 50% faster for current intracity trips (according to the flight statistics of these drones operation in Xinchang). This time savings is an exciting figure as the speed of transport will continue to increase in speed as the industry continues to mature due to advancements in flight path sequencing and loading/unloading flows.
Beyond COVID-19 Transport
Many other examples of medical goods transport via air taxi exist and are being tested at this time – including Beta Technologies’ Ava prototype, designed in conjunction with United Therapeutics to transport human organs in time critical, emergency scenarios. Tier 1 Engineering, another startup funded by United Therapeutics, utilizes energy efficient, battery powered helicopters to transport human organs in critical scenarios, and serves as a hybrid for large scale aerial mobility operations for human organ transplants until more custom solutions are certified by aviation regulatory authorities.
Delivery Drones for food and consumables delivery
Quarantine enforcement and medical good transport some of the primary applications of drone aerial mobility and drone technology to fighting coronavirus, but some additional, indirect benefits also provide the necessary support mechanisms that facilitate societal upkeep during heightened sensitivity periods to disease, infection, or natural disaster.
An often overlooked analogue is the role that drones and future mobility technology provided during the Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey – drones allowed for rapid aerial surveying, search and rescue, and medical goods supply and transport, on a limited basis. These events occurred over 10 years ago – and the maturation of mobility technology in those past 10 years have allowed for the heightened level of societal benefit from the tech itself.
On a larger scale, companies such as DHL and UPS have piloted their own drone delivery services. These services will allow at scale the free flowing movement that is highly desired of large fulfillment centers and e-commerce stores. While challenging the describe in this manner, the outbreak of COVID-19 is a fortunate event and forcing function for the progress of larger scale drone deliveries, as the benefits of a large network that could transport food, consumables, and emergency/disaster relief equipment in a scenario such as a hurricane, earthquake, or virus outbreak have been made blatantly clear.
An Aside on Enabling Technologies
While many of the technologies that are affecting and responding to the COVID-19 outbreak perform direct functions, ancillary and supporting technologies, such as low-altitude airspace management, infrastructure, battery technology, AI flight controllers, and advanced aerospace grade composite materials all contribute to the overall success of these disruptive mobility applications.
Why it’s important: While mass-scale commercial aerial mobility technology will not be viable for at least another 10 years, the societal benefits and value proposition to the everyday consumer, even if that consumer isn’t riding in an air taxi, are evident amplified due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As early as 2009, during Hurricane Katrina, drones and disruptive mobility technology has been utilized to aid in disaster relief, search and rescue, medical transport, and surveillance operations.
Oftentimes, massive global events, such as wars, natural disasters, or political turmoil provide, ironically, some of the greatest progress in technological advancements that have ever been accomplished: The Cold War and the Moon Landing, WWII and the jet engine, the industrial revolution, and so on. While the current global outlook is negative, the situation that has emerged is one ripe for taking advantage of the greatest opportunity afforded to anyone: the right to do better and do what was not possible, before it was said it could be done.
With content from Forbes, South China Morning Post, GPS World Magazine, CNN, and CNBC.