Can drones detect infectious people in a crowd? Researchers at UniSA say yes!

University of South Australia co-develops the "pandemic drone" to fight against the coronavirus pandemic threat.

By U2B Staff 

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Researchers at the University of South Australia have formed a partnership with Draganfly Inc, one of Canada’s largest enterprise drone companies to develop an invention known as the “pandemic drone” to help in the fight to stop the coronavirus pandemic.

The team of researchers from the university is led by Defense Chair of Sensor Systems Professor Javaan Chahl, who is working with the Canadian-based drone company.

The “pandemic drone” also known as the coronavirus drone, is designed to remotely monitor and detect people with infectious respiratory conditions.

The drone is designed to include a specialised sensor and a computer vision system capable of detecting vital signs that are linked to having coronavirus. The computer vision system will be able to monitor a person’s body temperature, heart rate as well as respiratory rate.

The team has been able to accurately measure heart rate and breathing rate of people from a distance of five to 10 meters, up to 50 meters with a fixed camera.

The researches have also developed an algorithm to detect sneezing and coughing. What’s more, the drone can single out individuals who cough and sneeze in crowds which presents a multitude of useful benefits for this invention.

If successful, authorities and healthcare professionals will be able to use the “pandemic drone” to detect people who might be infectious in crowded settings including at airports, cruise ships, aged care homes and in other places where groups of people may work or congregate.


Professor Javaan Chahl is currently working with Draganfly to integrate commercial, medical, and government customers.

The development of the “pandemic drone” is a natural progression for Professor Chahl: In 2017, Professor Chahl, alongside Dr. Ali Al-Naji and Asanka Perera, achieved global recognition when they demonstrated image-processing algorithms that could detect vital signs, including a human’s heart rate from drone video.

Commenting on this research partnership, Professor Chahl said, “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.”

The team has a strong reason to believe that the technology could be a viable screening tool for the coronavirus pandemic.

Professor Chahl added that the technology, originally developed for war zones and natural disasters also has the potential for remotely monitoring heart rates of premature babies in incubators.

In terms of its usefulness in battling the current coronavirus pandemic, the professor states that while the invention might not detect all cases, it could be a reliable tool to detect the presence of the disease in a place or in a group of people.

More pressingly, the recent turn of events has propelled the team to forge forward with this research, “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.”


Chief Executive Officer of Draganfly, Cameron Chell said that the drone technology company is honoured to work on such an important project. Given that the threat of the coronavirus pandemic is far-reaching, health and respiratory monitoring will be vital not only for detection but also to understand health trends.

Chell says his company will use its sensor, software and engineering expertise to work with the university to integrate and deploy for government, medical and commercial customers.