What do you get when you combine COVID-19, drones, cameras and AI?
Throughout 2020, researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) were racing against time to build technology that can remotely monitor the pandemic.
Working with North American drone manufacturer Draganfly Inc, the team combined drones, cameras and AI to develop systems that can check people’s vital health signs from a distance, including key symptoms of COVID-19.
An individual’s breathing, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels can be determined through a webcam video of their face, while core temperature can be measured using a thermal camera. They hope to soon be able to monitor blood pressure, too.
Once the technology was up and running mid last year, requests to test it came flooding in, including from the US government, law enforcement, health care agencies, universities and airlines. But privacy, security and ethical questions had to be dealt with first.
“The question was, can you separate the surveillance of the pandemic from the surveillance of people?” asks lead UniSA researcher Javaan Chahl.
Though these questions remain, the technology has so far been applied in drones, security cameras and kiosks able to scan vital signs in just 15 seconds. For example, the tech was picked up by the US’s Alabama State University in September 2020, used to check for symptoms in staff and students – plus enforce social distancing.
“What we’ve done is we’ve built a technology that is ideal for the next pandemic,” Chahl says.
Watch this video (courtesy of UniSA) to learn more about the trials of developing this cutting-edge Australian technology.
Lauren Fuge is a science journalist at Cosmos. She holds a BSc in physics from the University of Adelaide and a BA in English and creative writing from Flinders University.
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