Drones deployed to catch graffiti artists in the act

In Germany, vandalism-related costs have risen to $10 million annually. This summer, the national railway operator will test a fleet of small drones that can take infrared images.

Graffiti- and vandalism-related costs in Germany have risen to $10 million annually. Now, the national railway operator, Deutsche Bahn, has decided to deploy small surveillance drones to police its train depots and maintenance yards. Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

Deutsche Bahn is Europe’s largest railway and rail infrastructure operator, and last year they registered 14,000 incidents of vandalism and graffiti across Germany.

Beginning this summer, the company will be using a fleet of md4-1000s (pictured) developed by Microdrones. These "quad copters" are stealthy four-propeller unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that can fly for about an hour at heights of up to 500 feet -- in near-silence. They’re reported to cost $77,250 each.

This UAV can be equipped with high-resolution and infrared cameras to capture images of vandals in the dark -- evidence that can be used to prosecute defacers.

The initial drone deployment locations are a secret; images from the surveillance drones would be beamed in real time to the company’s security teams and that of the Bundespolizei, the federal police force.

In Europe, strict data protection laws are enough of a deterrent to keep Deutsche Bahn from recording and storing the footage, even though it will be operating the drones over its own property.

People or property outside the depots would not be filmed. However, it’s unclear how Germany's strict anti-surveillance laws might affect these plans, since privacy is highly valued in Germany, BBC reports. People objected when Google sent cameras in to build up its "Street View" of 20 cities. So Google gave people an opt-out: the fronts of the buildings could blurred if householders didn’t want their homes shown online. (More than 200,000 householders opted out.)

Despite data protection laws, Microdrones has been receiving increased interest in using drones for mapping, security, surveillance, and remote inspection of power lines and windmills.

[Via Businessweek, BBC]

Images: Microdrones

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com