Chinese women cycle through smog and pollution over Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Chinese officials announced Sunday the government is turning to unmanned aerial drones to help fight pollution.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection said the latest effort to enforce China's green laws is already underway. Equipped with infrared cameras, the drones can detect illegal pollution from factories at night, allowing for round-the-clock inspection.
"Images sent from these drones have a 0.04-meter resolution," the ministry said in a statement. "In other words, we can recognize a matchbox from 1,000 meters above,"
So far, 11 drones have flown missions in the most heavily polluted provinces in the country, including Hebei and Shanxi, as well as the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The drones flew more than 2,000 kilometers and covered a 1,000 square kilometer area in 20 hours, inspecting 254 factories.
The first missions identified 64 factories committing violations, including "air pollutants exceeding safe atmospheric concentrations, unregulated smoke emissions and improper functions of desulfurization plants and waste water facilities," Time reported. Of these factories, several are under additional investigations for "serious environmental problems," including Hebei Iron & Steel Group, Shanxi Huaze Aluminum & Power, and Inner Mongolia Yihua Chemical.
The ministry said it will conduct follow-up investigations of the alleged polluters and make the results public. The government plans to continue and potentially expand the drone program. "Conditions have been met to use drones for law-enforcement checks on a regular basis," officials said.
These drones are the most recent technology in China's fight for better air quality since Prime Minister Li Keqiang declared a "war against pollution" in March.
Later that month, the country tested another type of unmanned vehicle, intended to diffuse smog. Officials have discussed the benefits of drones to control pollution in the past.
“Unmanned aerial vehicles can enforce the law without space constraints, aren’t restricted by terrain and allow first-hand information of the real situation of relevant companies without interference,” officials said of another drone program, according to the Wall Street Journal.
As the drone programs take off, China is continuing to develop ways to deal with dangerous air quality. The Beijing Municipal Research Institute of Environmental Protection estimates that air pollution in the capital will not be at internationally-recognized safe levels until at least 2030.
Tags: AIR POLLUTION, CHINA, DRONES, POLLUTION, US & World, WORLD