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UJ scientists develop drone to track people during lockdown


Johannesburg – A group of University of Johannesburg (UJ) 

Scientists seek to adapt aviation technology to help control the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.

  Professor Qingguo Wang of the UJ Institute of Intelligent Systems (IIS) said a pandemic drone and other aviation technology could ensure that citizens comply with coronavirus prevention measures. 

  “UJ and researchers at Beihang University in Beijing sought to find solutions to ensure compliance in social distancing measures that are implemented by most countries; and came up with an unmanned aerial vehicle named Rudderless. This is a new generation of drones with guaranteed safety and superior performance. We will adapt it to South Africa, find allocations and add AI elements to make it work for this country,” Wang said.

  He added that the drone is part of a new generation of drones with guaranteed safety and superior performance. 

  “It is 4.5 meters long; 1.2 meters wide; two meters high; weighs approximately 8kg; and has working time of around four hours. The interdisciplinary team has reinvented the blimp by designing technology that could monitor social distancing, spot if people are wearing masks, and even track whether they have a fever. We envision that thermal and infrared cameras; real-time images and the control of distance between people; and the direct reporting to relevant parties via wireless communication will transform the aviation sector,” Professor Wang said.

   He explained that the drone can fly with 100% safety over a street and shopping malls. 

  “The camera can take pictures of the scene and calculate the distance between people, then report to some centre via wireless communication.  With the same images the AI system can detect if a person is wearing a facial mask or not. It can be equipped with infrared camera, and the AI system can measure the temperature of a person in the infrared images. There will be the AI system at some centre with a super computer, which gets real-time information from airships and processes them to determine the people’s distance, wearing of masks and temperature; and send the results to the relevant people for action,” he said.

  Wang said no funding for the airship has been established yet.

  “It depends on locals where and when they want this new technology. We trust that rollout of the autonomous airship technologies will be instrumental in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.