Harper Adams, a leading UK agricultural university, is planning to offer drone sprayer training to qualified emergency services drone pilots to enable them to disinfect COVID-19 infection hotspots.

While commonly used in the US, agricultural spray drones are prohibited in the EU. Harper Adams had been conducting trials to enable their use for field protection and weed control.

It is now seeking government approval to use them for disinfection purposes. In China, spray drones were used to disinfect rural and urban areas.

Drone training

Director of Chinese Investment Connections Ltd Robert Pearson approached Harper Adams to ask the institution to share its expertise by providing spray drone training.

Pearson said he had been working in China with a leading agricultural drone manufacturer, XAG.

“When COVID-19 took effect, they were at the forefront of preventative action in China and have been continuously disinfecting areas there for the past eight weeks. They have sprayed more than 902m square metres in 20 Chinese provinces with remarkable results.”

In the UK, there are 48 police drone teams and 100 in the fire service. Harper Adams plans to develop and run an intensive training course for these operators.

The drones could then be used to disinfect contaminated infection hotspots, such as parks, areas outside hospitals, emergency and public transport vehicles, and schools.


Jonathan Gill, a mechatronics researcher and drone pilot at Harper Adams University, said: "It is possible to operate spray drones remotely, reducing the need for people to enter contaminated areas to disinfect them and their chance of becoming infected.

After a drone has sprayed an area, it can return to that area and spray it again fully autonomously with an accuracy of ±1cm

“This means that drone operators would not require medical levels of PPE as standard agricultural sprayer PPE would suffice. They would therefore not create an additional burden on the government's limited supply of medical PPE.”

Gill said the aerial spray systems could cover areas that were difficult to access by ground-based vehicles or hand-held sprayer units.

"A drone can spray 600,000 square metres a day, the equivalent of 100 workers equipped with knapsack sprayers. Not only that, after a drone has sprayed an area, it can return to that area and spray it again fully autonomously with an accuracy of ±1cm repeatedly, meeting the requirement for repeated and regular spraying of key areas.

"In tests carried out in China, a drone spraying disinfectant achieved 99.8% coverage of its targeted area, eliminating all potential for contact contamination of COVID-19," Gill said.

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