Anna University’s unmanned aerial vehicle to help Chennai city police control, navigate traffic

A remote eye will soon monitor traffic in the city, in an attempt to bring some regulation into the existing chaos.

The State police are in the process of procuring three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — previously used to observe and control crowds in Tiruvannamalai — from Anna University, to help them keep an eye on the city’s vehicle flow.

The device has been developed by a team of students and faculty of the Madras Institute of Technology, Chromepet. “We started developing it six years ago for military operations, but we realised it would be more useful for civilian issues,” said Senthil Kumar, associate professor, aerospace engineering.

The UAV can fly for a few hours at a height of 1,000 feet, and send live videos over a wireless link. It weighs 2.3 kg and can also be fitted atop a helicopter for surveying longer distances.

The application was considered a success when earlier this year, it helped police personnel stationed at seven ground stations in Thiruvannamalai monitor crowds and create traffic diversions accordingly.

“Over 20 lakh people throng outside the temple during the festival, and only 20,000 can be allowed inside the premises. It is only with an aerial view that the police could decide when to close the gate and open it. And our device provided that view,” said Prof. Kumar.

The same principle works when it comes to monitoring traffic. “Police can man traffic by sending instructions based on a real-time video of the traffic situation in various areas across the city. They can find out why a traffic jam has occurred and decide on diversions too,” said Prof. Kumar. “The high-quality cameras will help zoom into the images with ten times more precision. You can find out if buses are over-crowded and also read the number plates of vehicles,” he added.

Police said they have initiated a tie-up with Anna University and the prototype will soon be developed into a product for use. “We are identifying spots where UAVs need to be placed in the city,” a police official said.

Both the Indian Navy and the Defence Research Development Organisation have recently procured many UAVs. Experts say traffic monitoring can be revolutionised if police are trained to use them properly. K.R. Balakrishnan, professor of Delhi Technological University said the operation of such vehicles is not very expensive and they are simple for deployment and use. A complete unit costs around Rs. 80 lakh, while the flying cost of a mini-vehicle per hour may be around Rs. 22,000, which is less than the cost of a helicopter . And they can be used for various purposes, he said.

But several experts also feel it will take a long time for these systems to be put to use. “Recently, the Mumbai police refused to use the UAVs despite the State government sanctioning Rs. 1 crore for it because the machines were difficult to maintain, unless used regularly. We had a few all-terrain vehicles to monitor crowds on the beach but these do not work now due to lack of maintenance,” said a police official.

However, the team that has developed the idea is confident about its use. “We are working on the power control systems to make the machine easy to maintain. Also, since we have developed it for uses such as riot control, monitoring traffic will not be very difficult,” Prof. Kumar.

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