Pilotless pilot program: German railway experimenting with drones to protect against vandalism

BERLIN – Germany’s national railway operator will soon be flying small drones over its tracks, bridges and stations to keep a watchful eye out for vandals spraying graffiti.

Deutsche Bahn said Tuesday some 14,000 incidents of graffiti were reported in 2012 alone, costing €7.6 million euros ($9.8 million) in cleanup costs.

In the coming weeks it will test whether drones might help as a deterrent, give Deutsche Bahn the chance to dispatch security personnel, and provide evidence that could be used in court.

Germany-based microdrones GmbH produces the test units worth about 60,000 euros each. They are battery-powered four-rotor helicopters that can be equipped with thermal or regular cameras.

They can remain airborne 80 minutes and have a 40-kilometre (25-mile) range on autopilot, reaching speeds of 54 kph (34 mph).