Residents living in the narrow lanes of Mannady , North Chennai, are now used to the distant hum that grows louder every time an aerial vehicle is sighted. Hovering and moving at about thirty feet above the road, drones spray a fine chemical mist. After a while, it is time for round two. This time, above the roofs of buildings, repeating the same exercise.
Meet the drone army deployed by the Corporation of Chennai in its fight against coronavirus. In the last three weeks, these five drones have sprayed a fine mist of Sodium Hypochloride over an area of four crore square meters. Looking at the effectiveness of their coverage, Tamil Nadu government has asked Anna University to supply 25 more drones to be used across other cities and towns in Tamil Nadu.
“While the ground level fight was taking place with the help of sanitary workers and machine sprays, we felt the need to disinfect places with heavy human concentration, the narrow quarters which are usually left out of machine spray. Also, the containment zones posed a different challenge as we did not want to expose a large number of sanitary workers there on a regular basis,” explained Rajendran, chief engineer, Chennai Corporation. Since the drones cover a larger area, thus increasing efficacy, the corporation plans to deploy more drones for their sheer effectiveness, he added.
“A regular drone, used for aerial videography, is powered by battery and can hold less than 10 litres of disinfectant after slight modifications. But these drones are powered by internal combustion engines that run on petrol and can carry 16 litres of disinfectant, thus enabling them to operate for longer hours. Our drones can also spray from altitudes as less as 3 meters and have two hours of endurance,” said Dr K Senthil Kumar, Director, Abdul Kalam Advanced UAV Research Centre, Anna University. The Centre has been at the forefront of developing drones for various uses by the state and central agencies.
The state health department has also asked the UAV Centre if the drones could be reconfigured to ferry Covid-19 test samples, which is safer than transporting these samples by road. “That way, the sample boxes will be handled by fewer people and can also reach the nearest test centre faster. This will be effective while testing in containment zones,” said a health official.