Image via the author
Whether you think they're art or a nuisance, train cars have been graffiti artists' rolling canvases since the 70s. Since NYC Mayor Ed Koch's War on Graffiti in the early 80s, anti-graffiti technology has remained relatively low-tech, with cars given special anti-paint coatings and harsh chemical baths to keep them clean. Now, German railways have taken anti-graffiti tech to a whole new level by testing out the use of drones to collect evidence on graffiti writers.
According to the BBC, Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway company, is testing out the use of drone-mounted infrared cameras to surveill train yards and hopefully collect evidence of graffiti writers in the act. Apparently graffiti costs the company about $10 million a year, so a fleet of drones—the BBC pegs them at $60k a piece, so we're talking pretty sophisticated models—could save a bunch of money.
Of course, it's unclear if the program will take off. Unlike the UK, where CCTVs are the norm, and the US, where privacy is increasingly a myth, Germany takes public surveillance very seriously. We all remember the huge kerfluffle regarding Google's Street View recording in the country, and it's hard to imagine regular use of drone surveillance is going to go over well. Deutsche Bahn says the program is currently limited to its large train depots, and flying drones over its private land is a-okay.
Like in the US, flying small drones at low altitudes is still legal—or at least not illegal—in Germany. The use of drones in public and private spaces is one of the most interesting legal questions of our time, and it's interesting to see what types of cases are sparking the earliest examinations of drone law. It'll be curious to see how this story plays out in Germany, but I've got one more practical question: Deutsche Bahn says its cameras are good enough to identify intruders, which seems like a bit of a stretch considering how infrared cameras work. How effective could the drone program even be?