Firm claims ‘pandemic drone’ can remotely detect people with a fever

3 Apr 2020

The ‘pandemic drone’ in action. Image: Draganfly

This week in future tech, the Australian government is set to deploy ‘pandemic drones’ to remotely monitor for potential coronavirus cases.

Canadian drone manufacturer Draganfly announced it is teaming up with the University of South Australia and the Australian Department of Defence Science and Technology Group to deploy drones with a very special purpose.

The partnership aims to use Draganfly’s drones with software designed to remotely monitor and detect people with infectious and respiratory conditions to help stop the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Future Human

The Vital Intelligence Project technology will be able to measure people’s heart and respiratory rates among crowds, workforces, potential at-risk groups and others.

Dr Javaan Chahl, defence science and technology chair at the University of South Australia, said: “We had imagined the technology being used in a future relief expedition to some faraway place. Now, shockingly, we see a need for its use in our everyday lives immediately.”

Andy Card, director of Draganfly and a former US secretary of transportation, added: “Health and respiratory monitoring will be vital for not only detection, but also utilising the data to understand health trends.

“As we move forward, drones and autonomous technology doing detection will be an important part of ensuring public safety.”

Start-up launches AI fever detection cameras

Another company hoping to use its tech to tackle the global pandemic is US start-up Kogniz, which has launched an AI-enabled camera that scans groups and crowds entering a facility and identifies anyone with a raised temperature.

“Companies want to keep their employees healthy and safe,” said Daniel Putterman, co-founder and co-CEO of Kogniz.

“Hand-held thermal guns are very expensive, labour intensive and create a bottleneck. We are able to provide temperature detection for high-flow environments so individuals with elevated temperature can be further checked.”

The company claimed that as people walk by individually or in groups, their temperatures can be checked in real time. The Health Cam device can detect skin temperature at just under five metres away, near a person’s eyes.

Kogniz said it already has 12 large customers deploying the technology, each using multiple cameras at different sites.

Coronavirus fears likely to boost smart speaker sales

ABI Research has released a whitepaper that suggests the sales of smart speakers – such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home – will surge over fears that the coronavirus could be picked up from touching various surfaces at home.

Last year, more than 140m smart speakers were shipped worldwide and, despite the key China market being impacted during the first quarter of 2020, sales are set to grow globally by 30pc this year, according to ABI.

“In the long term, voice control will continue be the Trojan horse of smart home adoption,” said Jonathan Collins, a research director at ABI Research.

“Covid-19 is part of the additional motivation and incentive for voice control in the home that will help drive awareness and adoption for a range of additional smart home devices and applications.”

Engineers try to teach robots workplace etiquette

As robots become more ubiquitous in factories, hospitals and other settings, engineers are attempting to find ways to teach them workplace etiquette. To that end, a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has developed a new framework called CommPlan.

Rather than telling robots exactly when and how to communicate, the framework gives them a few high-level principles for good etiquette and then leaves it to the robot to make decisions that would allow it to finish the task as efficiently as possible.

Removing the need to develop handcrafted policies reduces programming time, and makes the robots less likely to suffer from hiccups of over-communication, the team said.

“Many of these handcrafted policies are kind of like having a co-worker who keeps bugging you on Slack, or a micromanaging boss who repeatedly asks you how much progress you’ve made,” said MIT graduate student Shen Li, who co-led the writing of the study.

“If you’re a first responder in an emergency situation, excessive communication from a colleague might distract you from your primary task.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic