Mumbai: Cops grab chance to ‘test drive’ Chinese drones

Mumbai: Even as the thick security blanket thrown around the Ballard Pier area -- in anticipation of Sharad Pawar's visit to the ED office -- kept trespassers at bay, the eerie silence was broken intermittently by a trio of police drones, which occasionally made announcements hovering over the small crowd gathered in the vicinity.

The drones, flying 15-20 feet above the ground, blared messages in Hindi, English and Marathi, cautioning against "unlawful assembly." Later, during the day, after the gathering dispersed following Pawar's decision to cancel his visit, the empty lanes and by-lanes of the business district became a testing ground for police to conduct a second-round of trials for their latest acquisition from China: talking drones.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Zone 1, Sangramsingh Nishandar, who was supervising the security arrangements, told The Free Press Journal, this was the first time the Mavic-2 mini camera drones, manufactured by the Chinese firm DJI and equipped with small speakers, had been put to use in a real-time crowd control operation.

He said for Friday's bandobast, the police had deployed three of these drones and the feed was directly transmitted to the police control room at Crawford Market.

An officer handling one of the drones said, each device could fly at a maximum height of 200 metres for about an hour at a stretch. "The drones give us a bird's eye-view of the crowd. This will be a major help in crowd control, especially when the gatherings are huge," he said.

However, on Friday, policemen deployed in the area clearly outnumbered the NCP workers assembled at the party headquarters in the vicinity of the ED office.

Police sources said that while around 1,000 party supporters had visited the place during the day, 1,500 police personnel and officers had been deployed.

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