Eye in the sky: UJ expert proposes airship to monitor Covid-19 in SA

17 May 2020 - 12:00
By Iavan Pijoos
The institution and researchers from Beihang University in Beijing joined forces to create an “unmanned” aerial vehicle, named Rudderless.
Image: Supplied The institution and researchers from Beihang University in Beijing joined forces to create an “unmanned” aerial vehicle, named Rudderless.

Scientists from the University of Johannesburg hope to adapt an international method of using aviation technology as a way to slow the spread of Covid-19 in SA.

Prof Qingguo Wang from the Institute of Intelligent Systems (IIS) at UJ believes that a 'pandemic drone' and other aviation technology could ensure that citizens comply with prevention measures.

The institution and researchers from Beihang University in Beijing joined forces to create an “unmanned” aerial vehicle, named Rudderless.

Wang said the Chinese university has been a leader in aeronautics and astronautics.

“We at UJ will adapt it to SA, find allocations, and add AI elements to make it work for this country.”

Measuring about 4.5m in length, 1.2m in width and 2m in height, with a mass of 8kg, Wang believes that the device is “a first of its kind”.

“Rudderless, is a new generation of drones with guaranteed safety and superior performance.

“The interdisciplinary team has reinvented the blimp by designing  technology that could be used to monitoring social distancing, spot if people are wearing masks and even track whether they have a fever,” Wang said.

He said the airship has a working time of about 4 hours.

According to Wang, this is how the airship will combat the spread of the virus in SA:

  • Monitor social distancing: An airship can fly with 100% safety, over a street and big shopping malls. The camera can take real-time pictures of the scene and calculate the distance between people and then report to some centre via wireless communication.
  • Monitor masking: With the same images obtained as above, the AI system can detect if a person is wearing a facial mask or not.
  • Monitor temperature: An airship can be equipped with infrared camera. The AI system can measure the temperature of the person in the infrared images.

“On top of the airship, there will be the AI system sitting in some centre with a super computer, which gets real-time information from airships and processes them in real time to determine the people’s distance and masking and temperature and send the results to the relevant parties (people, shops, policemen) for action,” he said.

Wang said there had not been funding in SA for the airship yet.

“We are looking for local gents to start the airship application in SA. It depends on locals where and when they want this new technology in this beautiful country

“We trust that the rollout of the autonomous airship technologies will be instrumental during the pandemic.”