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AI-powered facial recognition drones track criminals in UAE

This may sound like something straight out of an episode of Black Mirror, but police surveillance via facial recognition drones has already become a reality in the Middle East.

Police in Sharjah, the third-most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, are using drones with facial recognition technology to track wanted criminals. The law enforcement agency is leveraging a video surveillance network powered by artificial intelligence for this task, according to a report published in Gulf News today.

Here’s how the technology works: Once a felon’s photograph is fed into the AI network, facial recognition drones take to the skies and scan crowded public spaces. When a drone suspects it has spotted a target, it captures his or her images – possibly flying lower and adjusting the gimbal for a better angle.

Machine learning models then scan the images for instant analysis. If any matches are found, the ground units of the police force move in to make the arrest.

The 5G-enabled patrol aims at reducing the response time, expedite the transfer of data in the security sector, connecting a high-resolution patrol camera equipped with AI to the command room.

Captain Saeed Bin Hada, director of innovation, Sharjah Police

The report doesn’t detail if the police have made any successful arrests using facial recognition drones yet or what steps are being taken to balance technology with people’s right to privacy.

But the use of drones by public safety officials in Sharjah is nothing new. In the past month, at least 200 drone operations have been carried out by the police.

Sharjah Police have used drones to monitor COVID-19 lockdown violations, investigate crime scenes and road accidents, search for missing persons, track illegal activities and drug peddlers, secure sensitive areas, patrol hazardous industrial sites, manage mob violence, and provide surveillance for large crowds during public events.

During a recent fire incident at Abbeco Tower in Sharjah, the police used drones to track residents trapped in the burning building and rushed emergency crews to the site to rescue them.

Using drones at accident scenes enables the police to collect evidence faster and more easily. Investigators can then download the data and use special imaging software to take measurements of the scene. They can also move around the virtual scene and view it from many different angles. Previously, investigators had to measure a scene using on-the-ground surveyor tools only.

Captain Saeed Bin Hada, director of innovation, Sharjah Police

In addition to drones with optical and infrared sensors, the police department is also leveraging payload-carrying drones for its missions. Sharjah Police’s drones are designed to carry a weight of almost 30kg and can supply essentials like ropes and safety jackets to affected persons during emergencies.

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Avatar for Ishveena Singh Ishveena Singh

Ishveena Singh is a versatile journalist and writer with a passion for drones and location technologies. She has been named as one of the 50 Rising Stars of the geospatial industry for the year 2021 by Geospatial World magazine.