July 17th, 2020

Innovations That Matter – Episode 06

As designers, we’re intensely curious about innovations of all kinds, and even more so when human ingenuity is borne out of sudden change. We decided to lend our expertise in highlighting and evaluating promising innovations borne out of the COVID-19 crisis. In this series, we’ll be using 3 different categories to rate these exciting ideas. First will be innovation, or how new or disruptive the idea is. Next, we’ll look at feasibility to check how realistic the idea actually is in practice. Finally, will be scalability, to see how capable an idea is to reach a wide audience.

In this episode of Innovations That Matter, we review:
1. Hospital Uses Drones To Deliver PPE Supplies [Link]
2. Quadcopters Provide Indoor Disinfection [Link]
3. Drones Help To Disinfect Large Public Venues [Link]

Watch Episode 05 here.

Find more COVID-19 insights here.


Hello again, this is David Bulfin, Senior Designer at BOLTGROUP, here to host our next episode of Innovations That Matter, where we explore, analyze, and rank some exciting innovations that are responding to COVID-19. Today’s episode is all about drones.

In recent history, we’ve heard plenty about plans for drones in various industries being used to help makes deliveries fast and convenient. For Zipline, a company based in San Francisco, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented an opportunity to put design impact to flight. Their platform has been notable for its proven use in delivering blood and other vital medical supplies in areas of the developing world where road surfaces present real challenges in creating reliable rapid transport. With today’s public health crisis, delivering PPE on demand is a challenge everywhere. Right here in our home base of Charlotte, North Carolina, Zipline drones have recently been deployed for the first time by the Novant Health system to create a fast network of small autonomous fixed wing aircraft designed to deliver supplies across the metropolitan area. Both the FAA and the DOT gave special permissions for the planes to operate in designated airspace so they’ll stay safe and out of the way. For innovation, the Novant Zipline partnership gets a 5 out of 5 score from our team. Beyond creating a method that’s fast, the fact that the airborne supply is inherently contact free is a cool bonus. The aircraft themselves also represent a significant set of innovative features that help them stay fast to deploy and re-supply. For feasibility, this system gets a 4 out of 5 ranking. While the system has proven itself to be reliable, it still needs a dedicated supply chain of its own to operate at its highest efficiency. Tight payload requirements also mean that these drones would need to take multiple round trips to deliver a large shipment. On scalability, we came to a consensus with a 3 out of 5 ranking. If this system grows in reliance and popularity we can envision some new challenges emerging. Things like airspace management, traffic control and a managed network of drop zones could prove to be exciting areas of development.

In very recent history flying quadcopters indoors presented some significant challenges. While obstacle avoidance using cameras has improved things significantly, being able to reliably zip through doorways and down hallways can still be challenging. By borrowing technology from self-driving cars, Digital Aerolus has introduced an autonomous indoor drone with UV lamps onboard that’s designed to disinfect rooms and surfaces it flies over. By eliminating the need for staff or physical contact of any sort, these drones can fly patterns through unoccupied rooms and buildings making them safe and clean after they exit. With UVC light being a proven method for touchless disinfection, pairing it with a touchless method for application seems even better. On innovation, this drone gets a 4 out of 5 ranking. We think the massive challenge of getting indoor flight right along is worth mention and the timely pivot to use their technology to combat COVID-19 is admirable. In regards to feasibility, we’re scoring this drone at 3 out of 5. While the overall concept is decidedly exciting, we’re looking forward to seeing some more in use case studies from their customers to hear about efficacy. One concern to note is that since the drone has no way to open doors, it’s vital that all indoor thresholds be left open overnight for cleaning. The Aertos 120 drone scores high on scalability at 5 out of 5. If this type of disinfection method works well in practice, it would be easy to image small swarms of these devices working together to cover a large building. With the drones themselves being generally pretty small, managing a large number of them may not be overly challenging.

In a similar vein, the last pandemic fighting drone we have to share today is also one designed to disinfect spaces. This one however is designed to operate at an industrial scale. Eaglehawk’s latest automated aerial chemical spraying system is notable for its efficiency. Realizing how much time and effort it takes to disinfect large public venues by hand, they devised a better way. Their drone system employs a pair of aircraft. The first operates as the sprayer, and the second manages a hose connected to a reservoir on the ground. Since the drones can’t carry enough liquid onboard to clean a large space, this interesting method seems to be the way to go. As venues potentially re-open being able to quickly and effectively clean spaces like theaters and sport stadiums between events will make a bog difference. For innovation, we’re giving Eaglehawk’s new drone enabled spraying service a 3 put of 5. We’re impressed with the two-drone solution to manage an awkward hose line, but we’d be curious if there were other hot swappable methods that could be just as fast. On feasibility, this service gets a solid 5 out of 5 score. We find the implementation here to be both practical and effective. The system cleans very similarly to how a large staff might, only a lot faster. Finally on scalability we’re giving a score of 4 out of 5. We can see a system like this bringing a value add to a lot of venues. We think being able to clean fast is going to be a major cost influencer in the days ahead. Time will tell if Eaglehawk’s solution is adaptable enough for widespread use.

That’s all for this episode. I invite you to check back in with us as we continue to share new episodes. You can be sure we’ll have more exciting innovations to share. Until then, thanks for listening and I’ll see you next time.

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