Rise in Drone Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published: April 16, 2020

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Drones have become a go-to method for authorities enforcing social distancing guidelines across the United States. Further uses for drones are being explored.

Drone use by public safety and first responder agencies has been on the rise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Drones have regularly been used to aid in implementing social distancing measures across the United States from New Jersey to California. Pre-recorded voice messages may be played from a drone to remind people to keep their distance. They may also be used to transport goods, medical supplies (test kits), prescription drugs, and under certain circumstances, blood. While primarily air based drones are being used, there are land based drones being used to make food deliveries, with a pilot program currently underway in Fairfax City, Virginia. There are now even drones in development that can be used to monitor an individual’s temperature, specifically looking for a fever, to determine if they are sick.

Federal, state and local governments are beginning to take steps to relax some restrictions on drones so that they may be used more freely by authorized personnel for the current public health emergency. States have introduced over 50 drone bills so far in 2020 and the importance of those bills may further help in the nationwide battle against coronavirus.

The FAA on April 14, 2020 has enabled drone use for COVID-19 response efforts within existing regulations and emergency procedures. The FAA may also issue special approvals, some within an hour, for flights that support emergency activities. This move by the FAA continues to showcase the importance that drones are having when it comes to combating the coronavirus.

With all the good drones are doing currently to aid in the pandemic, it is not without concern or critics. There are concerns of privacy invasion and abuse of using this technology after the pandemic has been contained. This will likely be an ongoing topic of discussion amongst regulators and lawmakers as to what extent, and when this technology can be used to monitor people and/or crowds.

It may also be speculated that drone purchases may increase as time goes on. SLED governments whom do not own drones or perhaps not enough, may draw interest in procuring new or additional drones to aid in enforcing current social distancing guidelines and prepare for any future virus outbreak.