A leading defence expert says the use of artificially intelligent drones to monitor crowds at major events and report “irregular behaviour” to authorities will become widespread, as Victoria Police reveals plans to use the drones as part of its new anti-terror strategy.
- Drones will monitor crowds as part of Victoria Police’s new counter-terrorism strategy
- Biometric technology can detect ‘irregular’ behaviour and report back to officers
- Defence expert predicts widespread use of drones equipped with AI within five years
Under the refreshed counter-terrorism strategy, drones which detect unusual behaviour in a crowd will report findings back to officers, who can then investigate the potential threat.
Assistant Commissioner Ross Guenther told ABC Radio Melbourne the aim of the drones is not to create a “surveillance state”, but to help police prevent attacks occurring.
“Say you went to the Myer Music Bowl, for example, and you took a backpack with you to that,” he said.
“You drop the backpack down but then you just returned to the gate and left the property, that would be an irregular behaviour.
“If we had a drone in the area using that sort of functionality it would identify an out of normal behaviour and send that information back to police command post.
“The intention of it is to protect the community and it’s not that we’re using that technology 24 hours a day at all our meeting places, for example.”
Mr Guenther said the plan acknowledges the need for police to keep up with new technologies that increasingly resemble the futuristic world of the 1980s cartoon The Jetsons.
“Terrorists morph in the way that communities morph, so we need to be prepared to combat methodologies that we’ve not seen before,” he said.
“The in-built capabilities that you can purchase [for drones] include biometric features within cameras there that look for patterns of behaviour for example, and this is used in airport technologies already established around the world.
“I guess that’s the reference to The Jetsons effect.”
AI drone use will increase: expert
The use of drones equipped with artificial intelligence is likely to expand over the next three to five years, according to defence expert Professor Clive Williams, from Australian National University.
“[Drones] are useful and much most cost-effective than using a helicopter,” he said.
“The main development will probably be in the area of artificial intelligence because already the technology is out there, it’s simply a matter of whether police take up the technology or not.
“What it can do is take out some of the monotony of looking over a large crowd for example.
“Artificial intelligence could say ‘have a look in that sector, there’s unusual activity’ and specify what it is and that gives the human operator the chance then to focus in and make a decision about what to do about it.”
Professor Williams said the community generally accepts a degree of surveillance already with the growth of CCTV cameras in city centres.
“There used to be public concern about that but I think now people are more concerned about their security and their safety, and these kinds of surveillance can actually provide more security and therefore I think generally speaking people are accepting of it,” he said.
“Facial recognition is of course another aspect, although maybe that’s a bit more contentious because of the civil liberty aspects of it.”
Risk of drones as weapons
Mr Guenther also said police needed to be prepared for the potential use of drones as weapons in crowd environments.
“Drones have been used in the battlefield and we know that they have got the capability to do bad things in crowded places, so we need to be ready to deal with that,” he said.
Police at the Commonwealth Games in Queensland this year were equipped with “drone guns” which have the ability to bring down the aircraft by disrupting electronic signals.
He said despite the importance of adapting to new technology, the links between police and different community groups remained the key to the force’s counter-terrorism strategy.
“That engagement with the community is the most important thing we do, and in fact, in this strategy which has four pillars, the first of those is actually prevention, is the community stuff we focus heavily on and will continue to enhance,” he said.