FEATURE | Wits student designs drone that can screen people for COVID-19

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The global war against COVID-19 is central to all developments, as a third of the world remains on lockdown in attempts to conquer it. A few industries stand to benefit by regarding this crisis as an opportunity. One of these is the technology space. In this series titled, COVID Tech, SABC News’ Tshepiso Moche reports on coronavirus-related tech developments in South Africa and globally. In this edition, he looks at a drone that has been developed to help government with COVID-19 screening.

As the country continues to suffer from the effects of COVID-19, some people have used the opportunities presented by the coronavirus pandemic to come up with new innovations.

Wits University aeronautical engineering student, Xolani Radebe and his friends have designed a drone that is able to help with COVID-19 screening.

The drone could be used to detect a person with a raised body temperature in a large crowd using its thermal camera.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen people come up with some innovative ways to address the impact of the virus.

Radebe, who has always had a passion for aviation, says he had no idea that one day he would design a drone.

He worked together with fellow students Tino Kurimwi, Bradley Mamanyoha, Varsty Mauku, Siphesihle Gamede and Neel Moraba on this project.

They are the owners of an aviation company called Rita Sibanyoni Aviation (RS Aviation).

The drone could help in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 as the country moved to lockdown level one from September 21.

Under level one lockdown, people are allowed to gather in groups of not more than 250 indoors and not more than 500 people outdoors.

This means that people are allowed to attend larger gatherings as long as the number does not exceed 50% of a venue’s capacity.

This drone could help monitor people’s temperature when groups of people are gathered and can also be used during search and rescue and fire-fighting.

Some of the challenges Radebe encountered

Radebe says one of his many challenges was getting funds for the project.

He says it is very hard to get funding because there are a lot of people who have the capabilities to design drones.

The 21-year-old from Soweto says he hopes the Gauteng Department of Health will show interest in the project.

According to Radebe, the thermal camera used to design the drone costs around R5000.

This is one of many expensive components to build the drone.

Use of these drones beyond COVID-19

As we enter into summer and with the country experiencing very high temperatures in most provinces, increasing chances of veld fires, these drones have also been designed to help during those incidents.

They can also help officials during search and rescue efforts.

According to the  National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), more than 600 children die by drowning each year, and many more are disabled by a non-fatal drowning incident in South Africa each year.

As the festive season fast approaches, it is expected that hundreds of thousands of people will flock to the beaches.

Radebe says their company had been mentored by Wits University’s Transnet Matlafato Centre to help expand its laboratory space.

The centre helps aspiring entrepreneurs and SMMEs explore and test their products before accessing the market.