In First, Drones Will Surveil the New Year's Eve Ball Drop in Times Square

"It will probably be hard to see."

by James Dennin

While the jury is still out on exactly why someone would want to ring in the New Year fenced in an outdoor pen with no bathroom access and an alcohol moratorium, attendees of this year’s celebration in New York City’s Times Square can at least know their safety will be carefully monitored from the skies: The New York Police Department announced this year’s will be first ceremonial ball drop overseen by drone.

“That’s going to give us a visual aid and the flexibility of being able to move a camera to a certain spot with great rapidity through a tremendous crowd,” Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller told the Associated Press.

The newswire reported that it’s the first time the NYPD will be sending up a drone as part of the agency’s efforts to ramp up security to accommodate the crowds. Roughly 100,000 people are expected in the five block area that’s been cordoned off for spectators. The NYPD also says that the drone will be tethered to a building, and won’t fly directly over crowds. In fact, revelers might not even notice it’s there.

“Once it’s up in the air, it will probably be hard to see,” Chief of Department Terence Monahan told AP.

The NYPD bought several Mavic Pro drones from DJI back in the spring. 

What to Know About the Mavic Pro, M210 RTK, and Inspire

It’s not clear which drone the NYPD is putting into the field tonight, and the NYPD’s foray into the emerging technology began only recently. The agency just announced that they were deploying 14 drones earlier this month, the The New York Times reported. The drones were all purchased from the Chinese company DJI Technologies last Spring.

Most of the drones, 11, are Mavic Pro quadcopters, according to the Times report. The Mavic Pros are equipped with 5 vision sensors, a 4K camera and boast a range of a little less than 5 miles, according to DJI’s site. The agency also purchased two M210 RTK quadcopters, which come equipped with thermal imaging and aerial zoom; and an Inspire drone, originally developed as a filmmaking drone, which the agency will use for training.

M210 RTK quadcopters are marketed primarily to monitor industrial sites or for use in search and rescue missions. 


How the NYPD Plans to Use Drones

The M210 RTK is the most powerful of the three. On DJI’s site it’s marketed only in enterprise use-cases including as a search-and-rescue tool which, the AP notes, is one of the main planned uses for the NYPD’s drone program. One of the demonstrations the NYPD carried out when the deployment was first launched involved locating lost child in a park, while another involved using a team of drones to coordinate a rescue from a smoking car.

Most likely, whichever drones the NYPD puts into the field will be used to compliment the existing visual surveillance efforts, which also includes helicopters and hundreds of fixed cameras. Of course, drones can fly much lower to the ground than helicopters, are less expensive, and less disruptive to people watching on the ground.

Each NYPD drone is manned by a team of two, one of whom operates the drone and with another operator who monitors the footage it captures.