In late January, a viral video from China showed people who’d wandered outside in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak getting scolded by a disembodied voice from a drone flying overhead. Last month, similar campaigns began in France, where locals flouting travel restrictions were gently reminded to “respectez les distances de sécurité s’il vous plaît.”
Now, self-righteous flying robots have made their way to the U.S., with at least two American police departments deploying drones to tell people to disperse, go home, and stay there.
Last Friday, the mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey, where there are more than 1,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19, announced plans to deploy drones to enforce social-distancing rules.
“The most important thing you can do to fight this virus is stay at home,” Mayor Chris Bollwage said last Friday. “Some may notice drones monitoring your neighborhoods. These drones are going to alert people to move away from each other if they are congregating. This is not a joke. It is extremely serious.”
Tuesday, the local police department gave residents a look at the drones that will broadcast Bollwage’s voice.
“These drones will be around the City with an automated message from the Mayor telling you to STOP gathering, disperse and go home,” the police department wrote on Facebook. “Summonses HAVE AND WILL CONTINUE to be issued to those found in violation. Fines are up to $1000. You have been advised.”
In Daytona Beach, Florida, drones will play a message asking people to “please adhere to social distancing guidelines.” The Volusia Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday tweeted a video that included a test of the announcement, along with some scenic footage of the local beaches.
Earlier this week, a video showing a drone making similar announcements in Manhattan appeared online. The NYPD says it had nothing to do with the drone, which has drawn the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration.