New Yorkers strolling along the East River early last month glanced up to see an unsettling sight: a mysterious droneclaiming to represent something called the “Anti-Covid-19 Volunteer Drone Task Force” barking orders to pedestrians below to maintain social distancing.
“Please maintain a social distance of at least six feet,” the drone intoned, according to a report from CBS News, continuing with gloomy warnings, like “please help stop the spread of this virus” and “reduce the death toll and help save lives.”
They’re delivering medical supplies in Rwanda and snacks in Virginia. They’re hovering over crowds China to scan for fevers below.
“Covid-19? More like Covid-1984,” read one recent Reddit post on a thread about police drones flying over encampments of homeless people in cities such as Fort Worth, and Chula Vista, Calif., blasting them with messages about coronavirus prevention. “It really feels like we are living in some dystopian science fiction novel,” read another.
But automated oversight can be a blunt instrument. A police drone deployed in Fairfield, Conn., to monitor beaches for social distancing also warned a group of “juveniles” trespassing on the roof of a local elementary school, according to one news account.
While a drone itself is just a tool, neither inherently good nor evil, it is a tool with nearly unlimited powers for surveillance, Mr. Stanley added. Drones can be equipped with so-called stingrays to collect information from people’s mobile phones, night-vision cameras, GPS sensors, radar, lidar(laser detection technology for creating three-dimensional maps of an area), as well as thermal and infrared cameras.