TIJUANA — Drones soon could help Tijuana authorities monitor traffic, evaluate accident scenes, detect landslides and control wildfires.
Mayor Jorge Astiazarán said this week that he’s preparing to buy several small, unmanned aircraft for the city, making Tijuana one of the first municipal governments in Mexico to use drones.
“The main idea is that they help with surveillance of the city,” Astiazarán said in an interview. “This won’t just be used for public safety, but to see how the city is growing, discover clandestine dumps ... monitor any land movement in a remote area that has gone undetected.”
The purchase is part of the city’s effort to increase efficiency through technology. So far, the only municipality in Mexico that uses remotely piloted vehicles is Puebla in central Mexico, which launched a drone program in October after acquiring three small unmanned vehicles.
On the night of Nov. 30 in Tijuana, images taken from a drone hovering above City Hall were displayed inside the courtyard where hundreds gathered for Astiazarán’s swearing-in ceremony. The mayor stopped short of mentioning drones in his inaugural speech, but he pledged to make Tijuana a safer city “using all the tools that are within our reach, both human and those that technology offers us.”
Astiazarán said he has been in negotiations with 3D Robotics, a company with engineering offices in San Diego, business and sales offices in Berkeley, and a manufacturing plant in Tijuana.
The first step involves the purchase of two 3DR Ready-to-Fly Quad drones. Each weighs as much as 6.6 pounds and can carry up to 2.2 pounds, said Guillermo Romero, general manager of the company’s plant in Tijuana plant.
The drone is primarily equipped for aerial photography. The images it captures can be used to quickly and inexpensively produce 3-D maps, Romero said.
Alejandro Lares Valladares, Tijuana’s new public safety secretary, said the drones could supplement a network of video surveillance cameras first installed in 2006 and monitored through a command center in the city’s Río Zone. Officers would be trained to operate the drones and read images sent to the command center, enabling them to help officers on patrol in problematic areas, Lares said.
“What we want to do in this administration is evolve technologically,” Lares said, adding that he’s also hoping to increase the use of electronic tablets and smartphones to improve communications and speed up response times.
Eduardo Vázquez Rossainz, director of Puebla’s Center for Emergencies and Immediate Response, said the municipality’s three drones can fly up to 820 feet above the ground and carry up to 24 pounds each. They have been used to monitor flooding and oversee mass gatherings.
“It’s less expensive to fly a drone than a conventional helicopter,” Vázquez said in a telephone interview. “A drone has capabilities that a patrol officer doesn’t. It has access to dangerous areas that a human cannot reach.”
In Mexico, the drone programs in Puebla and Tijuana have yet to stir up the level of public controversy that’s taking place in the United States, where Congress has required the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to open up domestic airspace to drones by 2015. Current regulations prohibit use of drones in populated areas or near airports.
While Mexico has no laws governing the use of drones, Romero of 3D Robotics said the company is urging those who purchase drones to abide by international standards established for operators of remotely controlled model airplanes. Those rules require the vehicles to remain in the operator’s line of sight, not fly over private property and not soar above 400 feet, he said.
“We want to integrate this technology into civilian usage here in the city, without putting at risk individuals or private property,” Romero said.