Mexico City might soon get its very own version of Robocop, except it will be considerably smaller, non-lethal and winged. A Mexican tech startup known as Dronix is teaming up with anti-auto theft firm LoJack to create a fleet of drones that can patrol the skies above Mexico City in search of stolen vehicles.
Though overall car theft has declined in Mexico, retrieving stolen vehicles remains a major challenge. Last year less than half of all the reported stolen vehicles were located, according to Mexican daily El Financiero. The Nissan Tsuru was the most stolen vehicle of 2015.
Dronix and LoJack think new technologies can help both the cops and insurance companies do a better job.
“Drones are a big technological advancement,” Dronix CEO Federico Gonzalez and LoJack Mexico director Leonardo Contreras told Fusion in a joint statement. “Through our alliance with LoJack, we are seeking to improve the process of retrieving vehicles while improving security for personnel.”
Gonzalez says the two companies are already testing a pilot program, but wouldn’t comment on the details. “We are expecting that in a very short period of time we will be implementing new processes in the retrieval of vehicles with the help of drones,” he said.
Gonzalez said the drones, known as the model S1000, will be equipped with cameras and will have radio antennas that can help triangulate stolen vehicles. The drone will locate the car following signals emitted by the LoJack gear inside.
Personnel from LoJack will then be alerted as to the whereabouts of the vehicle and will physically investigate the exact location of the stolen car and work with law enforcement to retrieve it.
Dronix and LoJack are also participating in talks with the government to draft legislation regulating the use of drones in Mexico City.
“Dronix is playing an important role in the dialogue that exists with Mexico’s General Direction of Civil Aeronautics,” Gonzalez said. “We are waiting for a regulatory frame to be ready so we can talk more openly about these developments.”
Mexico's civil aviation laws are from a pre-drone era, and have not yet been updated. That lack of aerospace regulations coupled with a growing drone manufacturing industry has sparked drone innovation in Mexico. But as more and more companies and drone enthusiasts take to the skies, legal problems could arise. Nevertheless, Gonzalez doesn’t think his company is about to unleash a Terminator scenario.
“We think there’s no conflict between piloting a drone and the execution of authority functions,” he said. Gonzalez claims drones are not replacing cops; law enforcement will still be in charge of locating stolen vehicles and the drones will just serve as “very valuable tools."
Mexico’s federal police and the military are already using those "valuable tools"— Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) —for monitoring and surveillance, but lawmakers still have to evaluate how and when drones can be deployed to fight common crime. Drones do seem to represent an opportunity to decrease risk in some scenarios, such as having a cop suddenly engage in a gunfight over a stolen vehicle. But as their use grows, a failure in the technology could bring unwanted consequences, from privacy concerns to simply having a drone fall from the sky and injure people below.