China using technology such as drones and robots during outbreak

A drone with a QR code poster broadcasting audio messages asking motorists to scan the code and register their details online, to minimise contact with personnel and speed up inspection, in Shenzhen, in southern Guangdong province, on Tuesday.
A drone with a QR code poster broadcasting audio messages asking motorists to scan the code and register their details online, to minimise contact with personnel and speed up inspection, in Shenzhen, in southern Guangdong province, on Tuesday.PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING/HONG KONG • From deploying drones to chide citizens for not donning masks in public, to using robot medical assistants to deliver medical goods and conduct disinfection operations, China is employing a tech-savvy approach to tackle the country's coronavirus outbreak.

In the north-western region of Ningxia, a drone hovers above the street in a district in Yinchuan city, scanning for citizens roaming around unmasked.

"The gentleman wearing a red coat holding a white plastic bag in your right hand - yes, it's you. We found you are not wearing a face mask. Please wear it. If you do not have one, come to the patrol car by the street and get one," a drone instructed a passer-by, reported the Global Times.

In Chengdu, a group of mahjong players had to disperse after an official told them through a drone that such activity had been banned during the epidemic, Reuters reported.

Over in Guangzhou, in southern Guangdong province, a similar task is done by 5G-powered patrolling robots which also remind the public of the importance of frequent hand washing. The robots are equipped with high-resolution cameras and infrared thermometers that are capable of scanning the body temperatures of 10 people at once.

A high temperature and the absence of a mask would trigger an alert to the authorities, according to the China News Service website.

Robots have also played multiple roles in the nationwide battle against the virus, such as to allow remote video communication, patient health monitoring and the delivery of medical supplies in hospital, to limit human-to-human contact, Bloomberg reported.

Shanghai-based company Keenon Robotics has deployed 16 robots nicknamed "Little Peanut" to make indoor deliveries at a hospital in Hangzhou after a group of travellers from Wuhan were quarantined there.

Telco China Mobile last week also donated one 5G robot each to both Wuhan Union Hospital and Tongji Tianyou Hospital. These bots carry a disinfectant tank on board and are being used to safely clean hospital areas along a pre-determined route.

China is also using data tracking and artificial intelligence to find and prevent potential infections.

The local authorities in Nanjing in eastern Jiangsu province mined data, tracking people who have recently travelled to Wuhan, and deployed police to their homes to conduct temperature checks, Agence France-Presse reported.

Meanwhile, officials in the southwestern province of Yunnan plan to ask residents to scan a QR-like code on their phones to enter many public buildings so that their movements can be tracked, The New York Times reported, citing the People's Daily.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2020, with the headline 'China using technology such as drones and robots during outbreak'. Print Edition | Subscribe