COVID-19: Kerala Police uses drones to keep an eye on those who flout the lockdown


When the Kerala Police launched ‘Project Eagle Eye’, to use drones (unmanned aerial automobiles) for surveillance throughout the lockdown, the intent was to use the expertise as a instrument to complement guide surveillance. There was additionally the expectation that media protection about drone surveillance could be a deterrent to potential violators. They weren’t incorrect – on each counts. Over the final two weeks, drones have confirmed their effectivity significantly in inaccessible and unfamiliar terrain.

Men working away as they see the drone  
| Photo Credit:
Abin Ajay

“Initially the cops just went along since they had orders. But a couple of days in to it, they were convinced about how this could work. Now we get calls from the police asking us to join surveillance teams, daily,” says Abin Ajay, a drone operator who volunteers for the Kerala Police; hailing from Karunagapally, close to Kollam, he works with the Karunagapally, Chavara and Oachira police stations.

“Drones give us much more of a wider perspective – we see a bigger picture. Especially, in rural areas where people tend to gather in crowds or indulge in group activities, more than in towns. Using drones has definitely been a deterrent here in Kottayam district,” says Jaidev G, Superintendent of Police, Kottayam.

Sooraj Live Media demonstrating his drone to policemen in Kottayam

Sooraj Live Media demonstrating his drone to policemen in Kottayam  
| Photo Credit:
Sooraj Live Media

Close to 350 drone operators affiliated with organisations comparable to Skylimit, Professional Aerial Cinematographers Association(PACA), Drone Association of Kerala and others are volunteering with the State police power for surveillance and patrolling.

Each police station in the State’s 14 districts has entry to not less than one drone operator. “Drones are especially effective in topography which is inaccessible — pocket roads and open fields where jeeps can’t go,” says drone operator Subin Venugopal, who volunteers with the Vaikom police station. A drone is stealthy and inconspicuous, by the time folks realise the presence of 1, the video would have been captured and relayed to the patrol crew.

Subin Venugopal

“The mere sight of the drone gets people back indoors,” Subin says. Open areas – fields and playgrounds – are the drawback areas the place folks have a tendency to collect, ignoring the advisory.

Vantage level

Drones can journey up to distances of 1 to 5 kilometres and a peak of 500 metres, relying on the mannequin, away from the place the operator is, serving to the police power implement the lockdown. “People don’t know where this is being operated from, and invariably, some run straight into the waiting hands of the cops,” Subin says laughing. Interestingly, drones (operators) and the police have had a tough relationship in the previous – particularly in cities comparable to Kochi which have particular no-fly zones.

This will not be the first time drone operators in Kerala have stepped in to assist; throughout the floods of 2018 and 2019, they helped discover folks who had been trapped and even made meals drops utilizing drones. Sooraj Live Media, who helped throughout the 2018 floods, says, “Those days we worked independently, the requirement was different. The authorities did not need as many people as now.” He is the co-ordinator for Kottayam, working with the police there, in Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta too.

Abin Ajay

The concept was mooted by the Kerala Police Cyber Drome, the technological analysis and growth arm of the police division: the use of expertise for efficient policing is part of its mandate. When the Cyber Drome contacted Sooraj and different drone operators enquiring how they might assist with the ‘Break the Chain’ marketing campaign, Sooraj thought this might be a great way.

“The idea of Operation Eagle Eye was presented to the Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Manoj Abraham, who gave us the go ahead and it was implemented,” says a police officer from the Cyber Drome. “It has been effective in places that we cannot easily access, and complements manual surveillance too especially when illicit liquor is being brewed or there is a gathering of people,” he provides. According to him plans embody utilizing drones for thermal sensing and spraying sanitisers.

Following the resolution, a core crew of drone operators from throughout the State that features moreover Sooraj, Jasif A, Akhil P, Anoob AB, Nibin DR, and Sooraj P Nath was shaped. This crew coordinates the operators’ actions comparable to deployment, obligation entry, and scrutiny.

When a drone flies away…

  • Soaring temperature make the drones susceptible to injury, inflicting the battery to get overheated and broken. The drones used are, often, DJI Phantom and DJI Mavic Pro. The “Then there are the fly away drones which either land in water bodies or in fields or simply get lost. Loss of equipment is a worry for us. It is difficult to get spares given the lockdown – these are imported. Even otherwise there are issues importing these and their spares, with custom duty on them,” says Sooraj Live Media. The least expensive drone prices round Rs. 1 lakh, lack of tools means a lack of livelihood post-lockdown. “It would be helpful if there is some compensation for those who have lost or damaged their machines while doing this work,” he provides.

The drone operators, working in rotation, have been allotted police stations close to their properties so it saves them the commute to the police station, generally they work with multiple police station. Since the work is voluntary, with no cost, they don’t need to spend an excessive amount of – gas – on a visit. “Right now we are unemployed, so it makes sense not to rack up expenses,” says Sooraj Live Media.

The drone operators who are primarily hobbyists, marriage ceremony photographers and/or those working in the movie industries, as fallout of the lockdown, haven’t any earnings.“We have been doing this for the last 15 days; initially both parties – us and the police – didn’t know how the technology would be used. We thought it would be for three-four days to create awareness through media coverage, but now it is turning out be an effective tool for policing,” says Palakkad-based Sooraj P Nath, co-ordinator for the space.

Desperate occasions, determined measures

One of the challenges the drone operators face is the geography and topography – as an example there may be Palakkad which shares a porous border with Tamil Nadu making surveillance a problem. “There are so many roads – pocket roads, kucha roads – which make surveillance unattainable. There are forests, hillocks, the railway tracks…all these components pose a problem,” says Nath. In Kasaragod, the seaside space is hard says Ashwin KC, one in all the youngest drone operators at 22. “The density of population is very high, the houses are close and road is right in front. Now people know when they see a drone…they make a dash for it,” he says.

How they work

  • Each drone operator is accompanied by a crew of 3-Four policemen.
  • They work in two shifts – 9 am – 11 am and Four pm – 7 pm.
  • The work is voluntary – no funds.
  • Gloves and masks are obligatory for drone operators.
  • Cities comparable to Kochi have particular no-fly zones.

Kerala Police are placing these movies to good use in different methods comparable to posting them on social media to unfold the phrase.

One of Abin’s movies shot in Vallikunnam, close to Alappuzha, is amongst the movies which have gone viral. Posted on Kerala Police’ official Facebook web page the collage of movies, captured by drones, reveals teams of individuals scattering and working for canopy – hiding behind bushes, ducking for canopy, overlaying their faces with lungis or t-shirts – as the drone flies overhead. “As a result now police stations across the State are asking drone operators for their own ‘viral’ videos,” says Abin.

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