Zambian drones to be upgraded with health monitoring software

A Zambian Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) technology supplier has just announced plans to incorporate health monitoring software on their drones.

Serving the World Using Aerospace Technologies (SWUAT) is a UAS hardware and software technology supplier based in Chingola in Zambia’s Copperbelt Province, and they have just gone into a partnership with their Canadian counterpart, Draganfly Inc, to install the latter’s Vital Intelligence technology on SWUAT drones and enhance their operations during emergencies and pandemic crises.

SWUAT develops and supplies clients with aerospace technologies, providing the tailored systems to various industries that include wildlife, mining, security, education, energy and water. Currently, the company supports over 100 UAS programs and training centres in more than ten countries. In Zambia, its partners include the Zambian Government, the Ministry of Transport and Communication, Zambia Air Services Training Institute, Ministry of Tourism and Arts, The Copper Belt University and WWF Zambia. With the Vital Intelligence installation, the company hopes the analytics it offers will help enhance health measurement solutions.

Cameron Chell

“SWUAT Technologies is a recognized leader in creating outstanding systems that boost performance and safety,” said Cameron Chell, CEO Draganfly. “We are thrilled they have chosen Draganfly to develop and deploy an end to end solution to help the better handling of pandemic situations.”

The Vital Intelligence is a health and respiratory measurement technology that can be used as a pre-screening tool to help identify possible infectious and respiratory conditions. Draganfly can use the Vital Intelligence technology to process and analyse footage provided by SWUAT drones in relation to social distancing and vital sign extraction.

Zambia’s cases of COVID-19 are approaching 4,000, with 134 lives having succumbed to the virus. The country’s parliament has been forced to adjourn twice due to rising cases, the latest adjournment coming on July 21.

The Vital Intelligence technology was developed around March this year, as a response to the worsening Coronavirus situation in the nursing homes of Washington, USA. In collaboration with deep learning firm Vital Intelligence, the University of Australia and the Australian Department of Defence Science and Technology, they combined aerial drones, cameras, and data services to help monitor public heath during the COVID-19 crisis and future pandemics.

The drones will be fitted with a special sensor and computer vision system that can monitor temperature as well as detect people sneezing and coughing in crowds and other places where groups of people may work or congregate.

Not only can the Vital Intelligence project help estimate the distances between people, but it can also monitor temperatures, heart rates, and respiratory rates of individuals in crowds and workforces. Draganfly envisioned the tech being deployed by airlines and cruise ships; for potential at-risk groups, like seniors in care facilities; and in convention centres; at border crossings; and within critical infrastructure facilities.

“We licensed it for camera networks and for drones,” Chell explained in April. The university built the core technology — but it was Draganfly that optimised it for monitoring groups of people, since that was not what the technology was originally being used for.

“They (the university) were using it so that they can fly helicopters over disaster relief zones and pick up the vital signs of survivors on the ground. They could determine what resources they needed to apply where or the severity of survivors’ current situation, and did they need to get them right at that moment.

The Draganflyer

“They also ended up using it to monitor wildlife. You have a migration happening and you might have fires or drought. Wildlife officials need to see, ‘What is the health of the herd, and do we need to take any action?’ They also used it for prenatal babies, where they didn’t want a lot of people coming in and out of the ward because of potential introductions of infections, and also in that situation where probes and monitors being taped onto babies don’t typically stay on or are uncomfortable in some way. Those are the journaled, peer-reviewed use cases that are out there.”

Draganfly and the university then took the worked on the technology to adapt it for social distancing and health monitoring. Before then, the Vital Intelligence Project had never been strapped to a drone, let alone pointed at a crowd before its inaugural pilot at Westport, Connecticut.

It has to be said though, that the pilot saw a premature demise – but not because the technology itself failed.

“It was the community that had a bit of an outcry,” said Chell. “They were worried about Big Brother. And, fair enough. The software doesn’t identify people in a public safety environment, but that’s fine. So there’s some pushback, and that’s just going to take some time from a policy perspective in that specific jurisdiction.

“On the social distancing aspect of it though, we have been, quite frankly, inundated with requests from other jurisdictions that want to move forward with tests or at least understand how it works. We’ve had a great opportunity to have discussions with them about — their first question is, does this invade privacy, how does it work, and once they’ve done that due diligence, as Westport did, they clearly understand that it doesn’t.”

Chabula Chilombo

Speaking on behalf of SWUAT, company CEO Chabula Chilombo expressed hope for his organisation’s future operations. “We have a strong commitment for innovation and excellence, Chilombo said. “We believe that this joint effort with Draganfly will enable us to improve our offering in assisting emergency response teams by utilising analytics to better understand pandemic situations. Draganfly has vast experience in the field and offers cutting edge analytics and technology. We cannot express how excited we are to be in this collaboration. Given the current panic and insurgence of cases, we are confident that together we shall greatly contribute to managing this pandemic situation.”

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