Police Use Drones To Ensure Coronavirus Confinement In France

A Police drone flies on March 24, 2020 over Marseille’s Capucins market which is closed to the public on the eighth day of a strict nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 infection caused by the novel coronavirus. GERARD JULIEN / AFP


With millions locked down across France during the COVID-19 pandemic, overstretched police are struggling to ensure people stay indoors, especially with spring approaching. 

Authorities are increasingly turning to drones to patrol streets, parks, and riverbanks, and manufacturers are more than happy to meet the demand.

Authorities struggle at times to convince people to curb their instincts and spend less time outside, especially when the weather is good.

The order “stay home! You cannot stay in this area,” barked from the sky elicits an image of Big Brother that civil libertarians have warned of for some time.

In February, a video that went viral on social media showed an astonished Chinese woman being lectured to by a drone.

“Yes grandmother, it is the drone that is speaking to you. You should not go out without a mask. You had better go back home, and don’t forget to wash your hands,” the policeman who was controlling the device told her.

European police have picked up on the idea and want to use “fear of the cops” to support restrictions in Belgium, France and Spain.

The technique is being used even outside urban areas, where people are inclined to feel they run less risk of crossing paths with someone carrying COVID-19.

“A message from a drone catches your attention and avoids police having to meet the person face to face,” notes Stephane Morelli, co-founder of Azur Drones which has developed a “quasi-autonomous” system of airborne surveillance.

He told AFP that China has also tested drones equipped with infrared sensors that take people’s temperatures in the street or on their balconies.

Since streets are almost empty and other aircraft are few and far between, the conditions for using drones are almost ideal, he said.

But once we become used to such surveillance, and possibly employ countermeasures like hats and masks, will it still be effective?

“I see it mainly as a way to raise awareness, and then as a means of control,” said Bastien Laurent, head of a national federation of professional civil drone operators.

Unlike China, France does not now allow drones to be used for facial recognition, though they are capable of doing so from several hundred meters (yards) away.

But since rules on moving about have been widely reported by the media, “you don’t necessarily have to identify someone” because the drone can “spread the word” or direct a police patrol to the person in question, Laurent told AFP.

“The idea is not yet to use a drone for fines. I do not think France is ready for that sort of thing,” added Alexandre Thomas, founder of Flying Eye, which sells and rents drones to security services.

“Since Friday, I am getting calls every two hours to order material,” he told AFP.

Authorities in Paris have a contract with the company and now own and use around 20 of its drones for various purposes.

“Drones are no longer exotic, they are indispensable tools already being used to keep an eye on demonstrations,” Thomas noted.

He added that “there is also strong demand from prisons, in case of riots to inform intervention teams on the ground.”

His company was asked about the possibility of adapting drones “to do aerial spraying of disinfectants” to fight the pandemic that has killed almost 22,000 people worldwide.

Images from China showing such use also recall scenarios from a science fiction movie.

In France, “we are only in the development phase, that is something foreseen for when the confinement period is over,” Thomas believes.


US To Hit Iran With ‘Major’ New Sanctions On Monday – Trump

US President Donald Trump/ AFP


President Donald Trump said Saturday that the United States would impose “major” new sanctions on Iran in two days — a move sure to exacerbate tensions with the Islamic republic inflamed by the downing of a US spy plane.

Trump tamped down the threat of military action on Friday when he called off retaliatory strikes at the last minute because the response was not “proportionate” to the drone’s destruction over the Strait of Hormuz.

READ ALSO: Erdogan’s Candidate Concedes Defeat In Istanbul Vote

But he had said military action is still an option and brandished the threat of sanctions ever since.

Now, he has set a timetable for fresh punitive economic measures to heap more pressure on an Iranian economy already reeling from the sanctions in place since Trump withdrew from an international nuclear deal with Tehran.

“We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday,” Trump tweeted.

“I look forward to the day that Sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again – The sooner the better!”

Earlier, before heading to Camp David for meetings with his advisors on the situation, Trump said he would be Iran’s “best friend” and that the Islamic republic could be a “wealthy” country if it renounced nuclear weapons.

“We’re not going to have Iran have a nuclear weapon,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

“When they agree to that, they’re going to have a wealthy country. They’re going to be so happy, and I’m going to be their best friend. I hope that happens.”

“Let’s make Iran great again,” he added, tweaking for the occasion his main domestic political mantra.

Last year, Trump withdrew the United States from the deal designed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief and reinstated measures designed to choke off Iranian oil sales and cripple its economy.

As part of the spike in tensions, the US has beefed up its military presence in the Middle East and blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers on the Gulf of Oman. Iran denies any responsibility.

“Everyone was saying I’m a war-monger, and now they say I’m a dove,” Trump said Saturday as he was peppered with questions about the Iran drama.

“I think I am neither if you want to know the truth. I’m a man with common sense, and that’s what we need in this country, is common sense.”

Trump insisted it is up to the Iranian leadership how the current crisis plays out.

“If the leadership of Iran behaves badly, then it’s going to be a very, very bad day for them,” he said.

“But hopefully they’re smart and hopefully they really care for their people and not themselves, and hopefully we can get Iran back on to an economic track that’s fantastic, where they’re a really wealthy nation, which would be a wonderful thing,” he added.


Dublin Airport Flights Resume After Drone Sparks Suspension

Dublin Airport. Source: Getty Images


Dublin Airport on Thursday briefly suspended flights following the “confirmed sighting” of a drone at the airfield north of the Irish capital.

Aviation authorities apologised to passengers for the suspension of flights for around 15 minutes after the aerial device was spotted in the skies overhead.

“Flight operations have now resumed… following an earlier drone sighting,” the airport said on Twitter at around midday (1200 GMT).

Dublin Airport, which lies about six miles (10 kilometers) north of the city center, handled nearly 30 million passengers in 2017.

READ ALSO: Flights Suspended In Dublin Airport After Drone Sighting

Dozens of airlines operate from the Irish hub, flying to more than 180 destinations in 42 countries.

Thursday’s incident follows several drone sightings in neighbouring Britain in the run-up to Christmas and last month which caused travel misery for tens of thousands of people.

Gatwick Airport near London suspended all flights over three days in December after drones were repeatedly spotted in the air.

Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport, Europe’s busiest hub, suspended all departing flights for around an hour in January following a drone sighting.

This week, the British government said the no-fly zones for drones around airports would be extended to three miles from next month.


Rebels Attack Military Parade In Yemen With Drones, Kill Six


A rebel drone has hit Yemen’s largest air base Thursday, killing six loyalist soldiers during a military parade in an attack which threatens to hamper UN-led peace efforts.

At talks in Sweden last month, the UN brokered several agreements between Huthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government seen as the best chance of ending nearly four years of devastating conflict.

The Shiite Huthi rebels said they carried out the strike on Al-Anad air base, in government-held Lahij province some 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Yemen’s second city Aden.

At least 12 people were wounded, including top commanders, according to medics at Ibn Khaldoun hospital in the provincial capital Huta.

Footage of the attack showed a drone exploding over a podium around which dozens of military personnel were standing.

Soldiers scrambled to carry wounded comrades to military vehicles, while a man holding a camera bled on the ground.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said journalists were among the wounded.

Originally built by the then Soviet Union during the Cold War, Al-Anad served as the headquarters for US troops overseeing a long-running drone war against Al-Qaeda until March 2014, when it was overrun by the Huthis.

Government forces recaptured it in August 2015 as they recovered territory from the rebels with support from a Saudi-led military coalition.

– Top brass wounded –
Yemen’s deputy chief of staff Saleh al-Zandani, intelligence Brigadier General Saleh Tamah and senior army commander Fadel Hasan were among the wounded, along with Lahij governor Ahmad Abdullah al-Turki, doctors at Ibn Khaldoun hospital told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Chief of staff General Abdullah al-Nakhi was also at the base at the time of the attack, a pro-government official said. He was not named among the casualties.

The attack came one day after UN envoy Martin Griffiths warned “substantial progress” was needed on the ground before full-blown negotiations could be launched on ending the civil war.

The strike on loyalist top brass is likely to create a new obstacle to the launch of formal peace talks.

Yemeni Information Minister Moammer al-Eryani said the attack was “a strong blow” to the UN’s peace efforts.

“The Huthi militia does not believe in the language of peace and knows nothing but killing and terror,” he tweeted.

The Huthis said the attack was “in response to the enemies’ continuous air raids”, in a statement carried by the rebels’ Al-Masirah TV.

In last month’s talks, the warring sides agreed truce deals for the key rebel-held aid port of Hodeida and battleground third city Taez.

– ‘We see nothing reassuring’ –
Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that both parties in the Yemen war had “largely adhered to the ceasefire and there has been a significant decrease in hostilities”.

Residents in Hodeida on Thursday remained on edge amid the relative calm.

“We are afraid that the agreement between the Huthis and the resistance (Yemeni government alliance) will collapse,” Mohammed Ali told AFP.

“We are watching the situation with great concern. We see nothing reassuring.”

The latest negotiations sparked hopes of ending a conflict which has left nearly 10 million people just one step from famine in what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

But Griffiths has warned repeatedly that even small steps towards peace remain fragile.

“It is my view and it is shared by the leadership of both parties, but also others, that substantial progress, particularly on Hodeida of course, is something that we would like to see before we reconvene the next consultations,” he said.

A new meeting is to be held in Jordan next week to follow up on a major prisoner swap agreed by the warring parties last month.

The UN is working to schedule a new round of consultations, possibly in Kuwait, aimed at drafting a political framework for an end to the conflict.

The war between the Huthis and loyalist troops escalated in March 2015, when President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled into Saudi exile, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

International pressure for a peace settlement has intensified as the humanitarian crisis has worsened and after Saudi Arabia sparked a Western outcry over the October murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was the architect of the Saudi intervention in Yemen, has been held responsible by the US Senate for ordering the killing.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to raise the issue in talks in Riyadh later this week, US officials said.

Police Consider Shooting Down Drone After London Airport Shutdown

Passenger aircraft are pictured standing on the tarmac at departure gates at London Gatwick Airport, south of London, on December 20, 2018 after all flights were grounded due to drones flying over the airfield. Glyn KIRK / AFP


British police were Friday considering shooting down the drone that has grounded flights and caused chaos at London’s Gatwick Airport, with passengers set to face a third day of disruption.

Police said it was a “tactical option” after more than 50 sightings of the device near the airfield since Wednesday night when the runway was first closed.

Police and airport authorities believe the drone is being flown in a deliberate act to disrupt the airport at one of the busiest times of the year, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded just days before Christmas.

On Thursday Britain called in the army to offer additional support to police as they hunt for those responsible.

“We will do what we can to take that drone out of the sky and remove that disruption so we can get Gatwick back to normal,” Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley said, despite earlier concerns that shooting the drone would be dangerous due to the danger of stray bullets.

“One of the options is to use firearms officers if that presents itself — they have been out on the ground today and that’s a consideration and a tactical option that’s open to us.”

He said he believed the drone had been modified with the “intent of causing disruption” and were looking through CCTV to identify the make and model.

The airport said late Thursday its only runway could not be reopened following further appearances of the drone.


Facebook Halts Production Of Drones For Internet Delivery

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg                                                                             JOSH EDELSON / AFP


Facebook is ending a program launched in 2014 to build a fleet of drones that could deliver internet to underserved areas of the world.

The huge social network said it has not abandoned the idea of using high-altitude aircraft to connect remote areas of the globe, but would concentrate its efforts with manufacturing partners.

Facebook will close its facility in Bridgwater, southwest England, which has been working on the solar-powered Aquila drone, according to a statement late Tuesday.

“When we started the Aquila program back in 2014, very few companies were involved in this area,” said Facebook engineering director Yael Maguire.

But in the past four years a number of aerospace companies have been investing in the technology, he noted.

“Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility in Bridgwater.”

Maguire said Facebook would work with partners including the European consortium Airbus on high altitude platform station (HAPS) connectivity “and on the other technologies needed to make this system work, like flight control computers and high-density batteries.”

Facebook had touted the Aquila program as one of several aimed at bringing the internet to remote areas and last year announced a successful second test flight.

Google, meanwhile, has its own Project Loon which aims to deliver connectivity to remote areas using high-altitude balloons.


United States Gives Philippine Air Force Drones In Terrorism Fight

U.S. , Drones, anti-terror war, $50m
FILE PHOTO United States drones


The United States gave the Philippine air force on Tuesday its first surveillance drone system, as the two nations step up cooperation in the battle against jihadist militants.  

Washington has been boosting its backing for Philippine counter-terror efforts since Islamic State supporters seized parts of the southern city of Marawi last year, sparking a deadly five-month battle.

The unmanned aerial vehicle system worth $13.2 million, including six drones, turned over to Philippine troops was the latest US military assistance.

“Assets like the ScanEagle will significantly improve the (Philippine military’s) ability to detect terrorist activities, piracy activities, territory encroachment,” US Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim told reporters, referring to the drones.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the system, equipped with cameras and aircraft that can fly for 24 hours, would support operations against militants in the south.

The southern region of Mindanao is home to several pro-IS groups, including those that attacked Marawi in May last year in fighting that claimed more than 1,100 lives and reduced large parts of the city to rubble.

These new drones are to be used for reconnaissance missions in defence, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, Lorenzana said.

“With a number of security issues confronting our country today, there is a need to upgrade our nation’s armed forces,” Lorenzana said.

President Rodrigo Duterte had sought to loosen the Philippines’ 70-year alliance with the US in favour of closer ties with China and Russia.

His anger was partly driven by American criticism of his drug war, which has seen police kill thousands of people and prompted an International Criminal Court preliminary examination.

Relations have improved under US President Donald Trump, who has praised Duterte for his drug war but the Philippine leader has increasingly turned to Beijing and Moscow to boost one of Asia’s weakest armed forces.

Duterte last month cancelled a deal to buy helicopters from Canada after Ottawa ordered a review of human rights concerns.

“Do not buy anymore from Canada and the US because there is always a condition attached,” Duterte said at the time.

The US embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether the drones implied similar rights concerns.


10 Qaeda Suspects Killed In Yemen Drone Strikes

Al-Qaeda. Photo: Wikimedia

Ten suspected Al-Qaeda members in southern Yemen were killed in drone strikes over the weekend, government officials said Monday, as raids targeting the radical group intensify.

The United States is the only force known to operate armed drones over war-torn Yemen, where thousands have died in the conflict and millions now face famine.

Fadl Tissi, Han Tissi and Sultan Amri — three Yemenis “known for their ties to Al-Qaeda” — were killed when their car was hit in a drone attack on Qaifa in the central Baida province late Sunday, a local government official said.

Another drone attack at around midnight Saturday targeted three vehicles on the road from the southern province of Shabwa to Baida, killing seven suspected jihadists, an official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Washington considers the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to be the radical group’s most dangerous branch.

A long-running US drone war against AQAP has intensified since President Donald Trump took office in January.

AQAP has flourished in the chaos of the country’s civil war, which pits the Saudi-backed government against Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies.

More than 8,700 people have been killed in the conflict since a Saudi-led military coalition intervened on the government’s side in March 2015.

Al-Qaeda’s jihadist rivals, the Islamic State group, have also carried out several deadly attacks in the country.

Washington in October said it had killed dozens of IS fighters at training camps in Baida.

Kaduna to Mount CCTV, Drones At Public Places

Drones, CCTVThe Kaduna State Government says it has commenced the process of installing Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) monitors at designated points in the state capital, as well as deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones) to tackle crime in the state.

Coordinator of the state’s anti-crime outfit known as “Operation Yaki”, Colonel Yakubu Yusufu, disclosed this to newsmen.

According to him, the mounting of CCTV at various locations and the deployment of drones for aerial surveillance at flash points would check crime and give the masses a sense of security, thereby enhancing socio-economic activities.

He explained that security operatives would also further be trained to launch the fresh onslaught against criminals in the state.

Meanwhile, the state government has handed over the 403 stolen cows recovered by security operatives to their owners.

The coordinator of the security outfit, said that the 403 rustled cows had been recovered within the last one month.

Similarly, the State Police Command has arrested over 40 armed robbery suspects who specialize in snatching of cars, cattle rustling and stealing household items.


Russian Pizza Chain Begins Deliveries With Drones

russian-pizza-chain-starts-pizza-deliveries-by-droneA pizza chain in northern Russian began delivering pizzas by drone in the city of Syktyvkar and was witnessed by people who applauded in the city main square.

According to the company, the drones can fly up to 40 kilometers, or 25 miles per hour and a device that lowers pizza from the altitude of thirty metres while it’s still hot.

The drone deliveries will initially be used for active sales in the city parks, beaches and a university campus by tablet-yielding pizza salesmen who will take an order and request a drone to arrive.

However, the company plans to eliminate any human input in the pizza delivery very soon. The drone is equipped with a video camera monitored by the pizza restaurant’s manager who will call the customer at the time
of delivery to make sure the pizza is received by those who paid for it.

The chopper drones involved in the pizza delivery were developed by a Russian company who says they can fly at a speed of up to 40 kilometres per hour.

Chain owners claim that previous attempts of pizza drone deliveries in India and the US were just staged events to create promo videos, whereas they plan to make drone deliveries a regular everyday business.

Dodo Pizza’s founder, Fyodor Ovchinnikov, has been pleased with the new delivery method “Today for the first time in the world we have done a commercial pizza delivery (by drone).

“It was not just a PR stunt, it is a real delivery that people paid money for and our drone was delivering pizzas”, Ovchinnikov said.

The company said that on the first day, six commercial pizza deliveries were made by drone.

The chopper drones involved in the pizza delivery were developed by a Russian company who says they can fly at a speed of up to 40 kilometres per hour.

Chain owners claim that previous attempts of pizza drone deliveries in India and the U.S. were just staged events to create promo videos, whereas they plan to make drone deliveries a regular everyday business.