Getty Images

The era of the pepper-spraying drone is upon us.

Police in Lucknow, a city in northern India, say they've purchased five drones capable of dispersing pepper spray over large crowds, in order to control protests and break up unruly mobs. The drones cost $9,600 each and can carry 4.4 pounds of pepper spray. They will be rolled out later this month, according to AFP.

Advertisement

"We have managed to work out how to use it to precisely target the mob in winds and congested areas," Lucknow's chief of police told AFP.

Non-military crowd-control drones have been in the works for several years. One South African company, Desert Wolf, manufactures two different kinds of weaponized drones. One, the Skunk, uses an infrared camera to track bystanders on the ground, and is capable of firing paintballs and other small projectiles— in addition to pepper spray canisters— at a rate of up to 20 shots per second. The other, the Mozzy, is designed to shoot tranquilizer darts at large animals—helpful, for example, if one of the sheep your drone is trying to herd gets unruly. (Neither of these drones are known to be in use by police forces yet—although at least one mining company has purchased them for security.)

Advertisement

Police in the U.S. aren't using pepper spray drones yet. But some experts worry that their use will spread, as police realize that controlling a protest from the comfort of a drone-piloting console is far easier than sending in a riot squad.

Advertisement

"The use of remote-controlled drones to police or attack civilian individuals or groups with violent force is an offense against human dignity and a threat to democratic sovereignty," Mark Gubrud, a physicist with The International Committee for Robot Arms Control, told a New Zealand TV station last year. "It is also a potential precursor to scenarios in which the robots would operate fully autonomously, choosing their own targets outside of human control."

And now, if you'll excuse us, we'll be hiding underneath our beds.