Unmanned technologies in the fight against COVID-19: disinfection

In “DJI Helps Fight the Coronavirus,” we talked about how a leading drone manufacturer is directly or indirectly supporting the Chinese authorities in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic. China has been able to successfully deal with the spread of the virus using a combination of methods. Some of them have been adopted by other countries, in particular, disinfection from the air using unmanned aerial vehicles.

Disinfection of premises, streets and places of potential mass gathering of people is one of the effective methods to reduce the threat of infection with coronavirus, as well as other dangerous pathogens of epidemics. In the past, disinfection was carried out either using ground equipment and people in special protective suits equipped with special portable devices for spraying disinfectants. In some countries, due to the difficult situation with special equipment, fire engines and other suitable means were forced to use.

However, ground-based disinfection methods are far from always effective and safe. In addition, there is a high level of risk for people directly involved in the processing of objects. Manned aircraft also have the potential to perform disinfection work, but this is expensive and does not always lead to the desired results. Therefore, the authorities of the Chinese municipalities decided to turn to the help of manufacturers of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Before the first use of UAVs for disinfection, no one had any experience and experience in this matter, so the initiators took a big risk. Theoretically, there were two approaches to solving the technical problem: 1) use drones with powerful engines and the ability to take on board special equipment for spraying chemicals, 2) use ready-made developments in the form of specialized drones for processing agricultural land, equipped with special tanks and a spraying system. In most cases, it was decided to use the second approach, since by that time DJI (and in other cases its competitors) already had working models of agricultural drones. At DJI, it was the famous Agras line.

DJI, as you know, not only donated its drones, but also allocated financial assistance in the amount of one and a half million dollars to counter the epidemic. Structurally, the Agras turned out to be optimally adapted to carry out disinfection operations; it remained to prove their effectiveness in achieving their goals. You can read more about the benefits and completed tasks in our article “DJI Helps Fight the Coronavirus Epidemic”. The success is also evidenced by the fact that the experience of Chinese colleagues was used by specialists from different countries: the UK, France, Spain, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, etc. And the UK and Australia are now testing UAVs to perform disinfection tasks.

Spain: the first in Europe to use agricultural drones for disinfection

As you know, Spain, along with the UK, has been hardest hit in Europe by the COVID-19 epidemic. But, despite some miscalculations in the strategy to combat mass diseases, the Spanish authorities were the first, if we talk about the UK, to use DJI agricultural drones to fight the pandemic. The army took responsibility, despite objections from the US administration, which is fighting the leaders of the Chinese high-tech sector of the economy.

Special Emergency Unit (UME) of the Spanish Army with a fleet of DJI Agras MG-1s
Special Emergency Unit (UME) of the Spanish Army with a fleet of DJI Agras MG-1s

The word “decided” is not accidental here, because the use of drones to process city streets is prohibited in most European countries. For example, in the UK there is still a discussion about allowing the use of UAVs for disinfection. In Spain, the coronavirus has become a national disaster, so it is not surprising that the army, through the Special Emergency Unit (UME), has taken over many of the operations to combat it. The army worked alongside authorized DJI dealer in Spain, Stock RC.

To process large open spaces and street objects, different UAV models were used, but the DJI AGRAS MG-1 drone turned out to be the most effective. It was he who was mainly used by the UME special unit to disinfect these objects, as well as public transport. This was told by UME representatives on their website.

  DJI Agras MG-1 in full readiness
DJI Agras MG-1 in full readiness

India: high-tech battle against coronavirus

Interestingly, in Europe, participants in the discussion about the use of UAVs for disinfecting streets and premises often cite the experience of India and several other Asian countries as an example to their authorities. India has indeed become one of the leaders in applying “smart technologies” to counter the epidemic. Drones from DJI and other companies are actively working on the streets of its cities. Some of the devices monitor and help track quarantine violators, while the other part of the UAV treats objects with disinfectants.

Operator controls drone disinfecting Hyderabad streets
Operator controls drone disinfecting Hyderabad streets

At the same time, the authorities of cities and entire regions are working together with experts, doctors, and development specialists to increase the efficiency of operations. For example, the developers recommended that disinfection operations be performed early in the morning and late in the evening so that the procedure is completed faster and does not interfere with people and vehicles moving along the streets, if necessary. By the way, in Iran, where the streets are processed most often from special vehicles, they do the same.

But back to India. For example, in Hyderabad, the capital of the state of Telangana, local authorities have since last week ordered to systematically cultivate area after area using DJI Agras series agricultural drones. The first test flight missions were successful, after which it was decided to increase the number of drones and intensify operations. The machines typically work on public areas such as roads, bus stations, railways (and stations), streets, and other places where the virus is likely to actively spread.

Practice has shown that UAVs (at least of the DJI Agras series) are capable of performing disinfection operations 50 times faster than manual specialists. Moreover, India already has experience in using drones for disinfection. Even before the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, the Indian authorities used the capabilities of Marut Drones, which sprayed anti-larvae formulations over reservoirs in Hyderabad. Therefore, before starting antiviral disinfection, the authorities had reason to say that all operations would be “relatively simple and inexpensive.” Now drones are actively used for disinfection, but UAV developers and specialists are already suggesting that the authorities use the devices for other needs.

A drone works in the ponds of Hyderabad, destroying mosquito larvae.  This technology has been used in Indian cities for several years and has been applied to street disinfection.
A drone works in the ponds of Hyderabad, destroying mosquito larvae. This technology has been used in Indian cities for several years and has been applied to street disinfection.

The state government has already told officials that drones can be used to monitor citizens and deliver medicines. In March, drone operators, backed by the authorities, had already demonstrated the drones’ capabilities in the presence of Civil Aviation Ministry officials to deliver drugs using drones.

Australia: Disinfection Drone Testing Begins

In the near future, drones could be used in Australia to disinfect streets, malls and playgrounds as part of a new plan to fight the coronavirus. Australian authorities are currently using drones to monitor beaches. But Westpac Little Ripper is already working with the authorities to demonstrate the effectiveness of the new technology and, after testing, use UAVs to disinfect the streets. Currently, the company is already conducting the first test flights. It is assumed that drones will be able to efficiently and quickly process public places like shopping malls, playgrounds and streets.

Westpac Little Ripper and its Agras drones
Westpac Little Ripper and its Agras drones

Drones can spray environmentally friendly disinfectants from Grenof Technologies efficiently and effectively. The Little Ripper Group also uses its Ripper Training Academy to train pilots from all regions of Australia, including how to quickly spray disinfectants. The main drone used by the company for testing is the DJI Agras MG-1P, which was recently added to the fleet.

Little Ripper Group has been active in the drone market for the past few years. Her first and successful project in this area was to monitor Australian beaches like Westpac helicopters and watch for sharks. During the recent disastrous wildfires in Australia, Little Ripper deployed drones to search for wildfire-affected animals.


Here are a few different examples of the successful use of DJI drones to disinfect facilities and counter the COVID-19 coronavirus. We have given only a few examples of different approaches to this solution. Today, unmanned technologies are increasingly being used in emergency situations, and the pandemic turned out to be the case that made it possible to test the effectiveness of DJI devices in “combat” conditions. The successful experience of different countries encourages those who have not yet used new technologies to fight coronavirus to at least think about new solutions and test them in order to draw conclusions about the possibility of their application.

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