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The drone, useful but controversial reinforcement to enforce containment

The DJI drone, from the Flying Eye company, can be used to measure human temperature from a distance. DJI

During confinement, the drones are out. In a few days, these remote-controlled flying cameras have become essential auxiliaries for the authorities responsible for enforcing safety instructions and inviting – firmly – passers-by to stay at home.

Already massively used by the police in China or Korea, drones have been deployed in Italy, where Civil Aviation has eased the constraints relating to their use, in Spain, Greece and the United States. In France, police and gendarmerie have taken off a large number. In Nice, unmanned aircraft fitted with a loudspeaker crisscrossed the Promenade des Anglais. We have seen it in Paris, Marseille and even on the beaches of Côtes-d'Armor and Île de Ré.

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In the space of a week, the company Flying Eye, located in Sophia Antipolis, near Nice, has sold around thirty Mavic 2 drones of the Chinese brand DJI, equipped with an integrated speaker (around 3,000 euros per unit), to bodies responsible for applying the containment instructions. “These are the judicial police or the gendarmerie, but also the prison administration, in case it is necessary to secure the roofs of the prisons and guide ground teams. They are equipped with consumer models, but on which professional devices have been adapted, such as an encrypted radio link “, details Alexandre Thomas, director of this distributor who also provides training for remote pilots.

Road safety events and operations

For law enforcement, flying a drone is nothing new. Even if they remained until now less inclined to use these devices than their American or British counterparts, French police and gendarmes regularly use them to monitor demonstrations or supervise road safety operations, for example. For the average citizen, the appearance of a drone ordering him, in a metallic voice, to stay at home or to launch him “You can't stay in this area” There’s nothing trivial about it. However, the police consider the drone to be a very effective tool for ensuring compliance with containment measures.

It makes it possible to multiply the police presence while guaranteeing a strict social distancing and, despite its limited autonomy (half an hour flight at most), it can sift through large areas, including difficult places in record time. access in built-up areas. According to initial feedback, passers-by comply without delay after being overflown by a device, the presence of which is considered a summons before verbalization.

To go even further, DJI, the world's number one (Chinese) civilian drone, has developed a spreading system to distribute disinfectant. The company also designed an infrared thermal sensor capable of remotely measuring (with an accuracy of 0.5 degrees) the body temperature of an individual within four meters. Used in the Wuhan region by the Chinese authorities, this equipment is offered to European governments. “At the moment, this is not being considered, but if things really get worse, who knows if we shouldn't be doing it,” asks an expert on condition of anonymity.

A problematic extension of video surveillance

While the League for Human Rights openly worries about the use of surveillance drones in several French cities, considered as a problematic extension of video surveillance, the engagement of such devices in the establishment of a large-scale containment is seen by others as a boon. “If we reason in terms of cost-benefit, there is no doubt that these technologies must be released”, says Alain Bensoussan, lawyer specializing in new technologies. According to him, “The guarantees surrounding the protection of privacy are sufficient” so that we don’t have to worry.

Some professionals fear, however, that this sudden promotion would harm the social acceptability of an intrinsically controversial object. “Even if it’s for a good cause, flying loudspeakers that yell orders at walkers, that will necessarily maintain the image of Epinal of the drone-Big Brother. However, a drone can also save lives by rescuing shipwrecked people or people lost in the wilderness ”, sighs one of the executives of a major French company in the sector.

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