Forward-looking: Drones that are able to detect people infected with the coronavirus sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, but it's about to happen in Australia, and could arrive in other countries looking to stop the virus’ spread.

Drone maker Draganfly has been working on technology that uses specialized onboard thermal sensors and a smart computer vision system to monitor temperature, heart and respiratory rates from a distance. It can also detect people sneezing and coughing in large crowds or places where groups of people work or congregate.

Yesterday, Draganfly announced that it had been selected as the exclusive global systems integrator for The Vital Intelligence Project, a health and respiratory monitoring platform. Working in conjunction with the Australian Department of Defense and the University of South Australia, Draganfly’s “pandemic drones” will be deployed to monitor and detect people with infectious and respiratory conditions (i.e., Covid-19), thereby helping to stop the spread. The company has been given an initial budget of $1.5 million for the project.

“The University and Defence supported my team’s efforts to develop automation for use in epidemics and disasters. We had imagined the technology being used in a future relief expedition to some far-away place. Now, shockingly, we see a need for its use in our everyday lives immediately. Draganfly’s industrial know-how is quickly helping us ensure our research can save lives,” said Dr. Javaan Chahl, Defence Science and Technology Chair at the University of South Australia.

Cameron Chell, CEO of Draganfly, said the drones could “from a distance detect fever, which is much different than just temperature.” The system works at up to 60 meters, meaning the drones don’t have to get too close to detect illness.

It’s unclear when or exactly where the drones will be deployed, but Chell said: “Getting the tech into areas where the most amount of detection is currently required is the priority.”

We recently reported that Spanish authorities were using speaker-equipped drones to scold people breaking the country’s quarantine rules.