Can drones stop German graffiti artists? One railway thinks so

Deutsche Bahn, a German railway network, has decided to take a preemptive strike against would-be graffiti artists who find the railway's property a prime canvas for their work.

The drones, produced by the German company Microdrones, are about a yard wide with four propellers giving the remote-controlled aircraft lift. They fly at an altitude of 450 feet and can reach up to 33 mph.

The drones, according to The Telegraph, are incredibly quiet while operating, making them ideal for nighttime surveillance. Thermal imaging cameras attached to the drones can be used to take high-resolution pictures. Pictures, which will hopefully be used to identify criminals.

The drones cost a hefty €60,000 ($78,000 USD) each, a price the network is willing to pay to reduce the vandalism they say costs them an approximated €7.6 million ($9.8 million USD) a year. Deutsche Bahn, however, refuses to say how many drones they purchased.

"We are going to use this technology in problem areas, where taggers are most active," an unnamed spokesperson told Agence France Presse on Monday. These areas tend to be near Germany's more populated cities, such as Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne, where vandals target train cars and other property.

The company said it plans to test their new drones soon, but it's not clear how Germany's strict privacy and anti-surveillance laws might affect their use.

Germany — and the European Union in general — is no fan of technology and software which could potentially violate a citizen's privacy. In 2010, German citizens successfully rallied against Google's Street View, a popular feature on the Google Map service.

While Street View actively blurs faces, it can still show clear images of private homes and buildings. Google eventually gave Germans ability to opt out of Street View after a brief court battle. The feature, it turned out, proved to be unpopular among Germans, with over 200,000 people asking for their homes to be blurred on the service.

But the drones, according to a Deutsche Bahn spokesperson, shouldn't prove to be an issue for travelers making their way through train stations, saying the small craft will only be deployed at train depots.

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