5 ways people are using drones during the coronavirus lockdown

From walking dogs to getting dates, here's how unmanned aerial vehicles are serving the homebound.

Justin Jaffe Managing editor
Justin Jaffe is the Managing Editor for CNET Money. He has more than 20 years of experience publishing books, articles and research on finance and technology for Wired, IDC and others. He is the coauthor of Uninvested (Random House, 2015), which reveals how financial services companies take advantage of customers -- and how to protect yourself. He graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in English Literature, spent 10 years in San Francisco and now lives in Portland, Maine.
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Justin Jaffe
3 min read

Even amidst the pandemic, there are small moments of friendship and solidarity. In Jounieh in Lebanon, students used a drone to deliver flowers on mother's day. 

Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images

As I've been stuck at home for however many days now, I've had more time to fly my small collection of drones -- both inside and around my house, with some modest incursions into the nearby woods using the Skydio 2. I've been a bit sheepish about doing so -- after all, people are especially skittish right now, and even during normal times, drones tend to make neighbors anxious.

Still, it's been liberating to stand in my backyard or on my porch and explore the neighborhood from above. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. In fact, drones are having a bit of a moment in this coronavirus era. 

Read more: Best drone for 2020 

When you're locked down, flying is more powerful than ever, extending your reach and eyes into the sky, despite being stuck in your home or apartment. We've rounded up some of the more innovative and controversial ways that people, health officials and governments are using drones right now.

Watch this: How this drone can help stop the spread of coronavirus

1. Giving virtual tours of quarantined cities

Enthusiast site Drone DJ has an eerie roundup of drone footage of US cities including New York, Los Angeles and Boston as well as international metro areas such as Milan, Paris and Zurich. 

See more at DroneDJ: Ultimate coronavirus drone footage roundup: USA, China, Italy, Spain and more

2. Identifying the sick

The Chinese government has been using drones equipped with thermal sensors to find sick people walking around in public places, according to this Wall Street Journal article from March 10. Conscripted from their previous jobs -- including detecting forest fires and surveilling the population for other purposes -- these government drones are now scanning the population to find people, potentially infected with COVID-19, who should not be out and about. Remember: If you're sick, stay home.

Read more: How a smart ring may help detect early COVID-19 symptoms

Watch this: Studies test wearables as early coronavirus detection tools

3. Shame from above

As reported by the New York Times, Britain's police force has been using drones to capture footage of people flouting the country's social distancing guidelines -- and then tweeting it out. Despite the outcries of activists and officials concerned about the potential invasion of privacy, the Derbyshire police department profiled has so far struck an unrepentant tone: "We understand that people will have differing views about this post, however, we will not be apologetic to using any legal and appropriate methods to keep people safe." 

The Chinese government, which has long used technology to support its authoritarian regime, has been more ardent in its use of drones to enforce social distancing policies. Global Times News, a state-controlled news outlet, reported in January that police in parts of Taizhou, an eastern city of 6 million, has been using drones equipped with loudspeakers to deter people from congregating. In the video below, a Chinese official chastises an older woman for being out in public without a mask and reminds her to wash her hands. 

4. Getting booed up

When some guy in Brooklyn saw a girl dancing on a nearby rooftop, he did what you do in coronavirus 2020: Wave hello, get your drone -- I checked with him, it's a DJI Mavic Pro -- and shoot your shot. Watch the video, it's a good one.

5. Walking the dog

Dogs don't care about your quarantine. When a dog needs to go out, it needs to go out. One Cypriot addressed this issue by attaching his Pomeranian's leash to his drone, and setting them outside his door. According to an article in the Daily Mail, Vakis Demetriou piloted the drone from the balcony outside of his quarantined home. It's unclear who -- if anyone -- handled the aftermath.