Madrid’s city council, headed by mayor Manuela Carmena, has cancelled an order for six drones worth €200,000 ($225,000) arguing that they were “not worth the money” because the contract did not specify exacty what they would be used for.
The council released a statement saying that at first, it thought the drones could be used to help deal with emergencies during large-scale public events, but were forced to change their mind after the Spanish government brought in a law in July 2015 banning the use of drones in urban areas for purposes such as surveillance.
The law does permit the use of drones “in high risk situations, such as a public emergency” as well as for “the protection of citizens”.
The council has nevertheless decided to suspend the contract due to the fact that it did not clearly enough stipulate the usage of the drones within the area of Health, Security and Emergencies.
The move is the latest in a series of money saving efforts by Madrid’s council, led by Carmena, Madrid’s first left-wing mayor in 24 years. She swept to power in the city in May’s local and regional elections with left-wing coalition Ahora Madrid and has been backed by anti-austerity party Podemos.
She has rejected use of her mayoral car, preferring to take the metro to work and has given up other excesses such as the council’s VIP box at the city’s Las Ventas bullring.
While Madrid shuns the latest technology, other cities in Spain and around the world are embracing the unnamed automated vehicles, which often provide a rapid response in emergency situations, when it is impossible for police or firefighters to access areas on foot.
The Spanish military announced in August that it was investing €171 million in four unmanned aircraft to boost its surveillance capabilities while a pilot scheme has been launched in Spanish coastal resorts using drone lifeguards.
Michigan State Police in the United States has begun using drones in law enforcement, while the New York City Fire Brigade is currently applying to the Federal Aviation Administration to use drones for aerial surveillance of major fires.
In Europe, Austria has used Camcopters – a drone-like flying device complete with cameras and sensors – to patrol Ukraine, assisting observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor a ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels, while French rail operators are using drones to help catch thieves who steal up to €30,000 worth of cables a year.
But it has not all been plain sailing; drones have been plagued by safety issues. In Denmark a passenger plane had a near miss with an illegal drone in August, prompting calls for tighter rules on the flying devices.