‘21st Century Birdwatching: Drone Training Centre for the London Met Police’


“Somewhere in the provence of Warzistan, eyes are watching from the sky, hovering to every movement below. The loud humming sound of a large mosquito that every local fears. Elsewhere a young recruit officer watches the flickering screen in an air-condtioned cabin. An active duty soldier in the middle east, with his body in the middle of the Mohave desert army camp. “

These are the realities of operating a UAV or an unmanned aerial vehicle. As with most technology now used in our everyday lives, the UAV, or drones as commonly referred, is trick- ling down its way from its military usage into the hands of civilians operators. Used by hobbyist to professionals alike, drones are used extensively from aerial photography, reconaissance, search and rescue operations and most recently, drone operated graffiti. With the mass manufacturing and rapidly reducing costs of the devices, more and more civilians are operating them even with- out proper training and safety awareness.

Authorities the world over are scrambling to make sense in how to properly legislate and control the authorised use of drones as currently it blurs the line between aerial vehicle / hobbiyist activity, infringement of privacy among others. News of a privately operated drone crashing into the lawns of the White House, Washington DC, sparked a greater urgency in controlling its uses. Where does it stop though? There will undoubt- edly be more proliferation of drones entering into our private lives wether we like it or not in the near future. Closer to home, a number of police forces have used drones- frequently in trial form with the technology subsequently dropped – but they are employed by at least two forces. The varied use of drones by police forces across the United King- dom makes clear many of the problems raised by the technology, and many of the obstacles that still need to be overcome to allow for regular flight.

Historically, it isn’t something new for the police to deal with new scenarios in society by actively trying to find solutions in controlling it. Even closer to home in the Greenwich Peninsula, we found that a riot training centre emerged as a result of the London Metropolitan Police force trying to control riots taking place in the 80’s. Namely the Brixton Riots. Reports on The River Way Police Holding and Training Centre mentions of horse-mounted mock assaults on mock-up streets , equipped with water cannon and gas practice for crowd dispersal.

With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine with the current scenario involving drones of a similair facility being set up by the London Metropolitan Police Force. This projects envisions the materialisation of a Drone Training Centre for the London Met Police. Located close to the site of the previous River Way Holding and training Centre. Working closely with Greenwich neighbourhood Watch Associa- tion, a model town is developed for drone training and servicing. The police force gains critical data from operating drones from within this dynamic urban envi- ronment. Neighbourhood watch gets to extend its surveillance over the area by operating drones alongside the police force. Funded by a private-public research arm; ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment). ASTRAEA is a public-private project led by seven companies of which six are major arms firms, including BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defense among others.

Set in a scenario in the not-to-distant future where wide- spread drone usage is a reality, and where the London Metro- politan Police force are varying its methods on its surveillance op- erations including counter drone terrorism and the development of new urban surveillance objects. This project seeks to question how technology and the authority are continually blurring the public/privacy threshold and how it affects the built environment including the urban context surrounding it.