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The UvA is starting a trial in which intelligent drones will be used to enforce the smoking ban on campus. The drones detect cigarette smoke and, based on actual wind measurements, geo-fencing technology and facial recognition, can determine exactly where and at which target the smoke is coming from. The trial is part of a larger campaign by the UvA to eliminate smoking on campus. Smoking on campus has caused multiple fines from the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority since the smoking ban was introduced on 1 August 2020.

When March turns into April, the first drones should start flying on the Roeterseiland campus, around the entrance of building B/C/D. If the trial proves to be successful, the flyzone will be extended to other places on campus. 'In recent months, we have been looking at the best and safest way to extinguish cigarettes from the air', says Jan Lintsen, portfolio holder for finance and operations of UvA's Executive Board. 'Practical tests with wind turbines on the drone's wings showed that the drone had to come too close to extinguish the cigarette, which increased the risk of damage to drone and target. A water-based solution was eventually chosen. A precision syringe in the drone can aim at the mouth of a smoking student or staff member from a height of 5 metres and extinguish the cigarette.'

Credits (ECTS)

The pilot experiment uses modified consumer market drones that have a self-learning system on board in addition to a camera and nozzle. With it, they learn to recognise students and staff by the way, place and time they smoke. Lintsen: 'Linked to a database of profiles, the drone determines how often targets break the rules. For multiple violations, the drone can switch to a more violent nozzle on its own.' For a first offence, it targets a cigarette lying in the hand, for the second a cigarette lying in the mouth, and for a third offence, it deploys a nozzle with a wider beam so that mouth, hand and intermediate target areas are hit. Academic punitive measures are currently being explored. For repeated offences (four offences or more), credits (ECTS) will then be deducted.

Interdisciplinary approach

According to Lintsen, the trial is a huge step for the deployment of Artificial Intelligence in public spaces and a great example of an interdisciplinary approach to solve important societal issues. 'AI for the People? AI for the respiratory body,' says Lintsen. 'We settled technological and ethical dilemmas to address a health problem. A dream project.'

Take a look at an Artist Impression of the drone-pilot:

Flight demo

Media, students and staff can sign up for a flight demonstration which will take place this Saturday at the Roeterseilandcampus.