Jerusalem Light Rail’s Flying Robots Keep Tabs on Would-be Vandals

A hundred meters above the trains, the small gadgets have an eye on stone-throwers.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Drones protecting Jerusalem's light rail.Credit: Bladeworx
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The police and Jerusalem municipality have begun using small flying robots to keep an eye on the city’s light-rail system, which vandals damaged after the murder of an East Jerusalem teen by right-wing extremists this month.

The robots are operated by the company Bladeworx, the first firm to receive permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to operate unmanned aircraft over residential areas — and apparently the first company in the world to use such technology for public transportation.

For two weeks the light rail did not enter the neighborhoods of Shoafat, Beit Hanina or Pisgat Ze’ev after the vandalism of tracks and train stops. A week ago the system resumed service along the entire line, but not a day has gone by without a train being hit by stones, whether due to the July 2 murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir or Israel's Gaza operation now near the end of its second week.

No one has been injured in the train attacks, and light damage to a car is a rarity, but passenger numbers have tumbled on the system that passes through a number of Arab neighborhoods.

The small, remote-controlled robots hover about 100 meters above the moving trains. Their main task is to record stone-throwing as trains pass through Shoafat and transmit live, high-definition footage to the police, the municipality and light-rail command centers. The HD technology is particularly good at magnifying images.

According to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the robots have proved a good deterrent. “You can see it and hear it, and it has helped calm things down,” said Barkat, adding “we decided that because of the emergency situation, we would learn how it functions as we went along.”

Damage to Jerusalem light-rail train stop.Credit: Courtesy of CityPass