Start-up’s ‘smart balloons’ help quest for peace in Jerusalem

As far as Jerusalem’s mayor is concerned, RT’s aerial surveillance system is a proven deterrent to unrest

The SkyStar 180 balloon by RT Technologies (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The SkyStar 180 balloon by RT Technologies (Photo credit: Courtesy)

High-tech balloons — real ones and decoys — are playing a part in trying to put an end to weeks of violence in Jerusalem, where Palestinians have been attacking Israelis, throwing rocks at police and at the city’s light rail cars. In response, officials have been seeking ways to calm things down and to increase the sense of security among residents. Rami Shmuely, CEO of video surveillance security company RT, says the city may have found an answer – video-camera equipped balloons RT makes and sells.

“The city ordered three of our camera-equipped balloons, and I told the mayor that he should order two more even without the cameras, just for the deterrence factor,” Shmuely told The Times of Israel. “He laughed, but a few days later he called me up to tell me that the system was indeed very effective. As soon as the balloon was taken down for maintenance, they started throwing rocks in Shuafat again,” a reference to a Palestinian refugee camp inside Jerusalem’s city limits.

The balloon launch was announced a few weeks ago as part of an effort by security officials to discourage the rioting and rock throwing that has cropped up in Jerusalem in recent weeks. Regardless of the political issues, said Mayor Nir Barkat, the physical safety of residents and visitors would not be compromised – and part of that solution, said Shmuely, is RT’s SkyStar aerial video surveillance system.

What’s unique about his product, said Shmuely, is that it can cover a much wider area than other surveillance balloons. “We have the only long-distance aerial surveillance system that can operate from as high as 600 meters,: he said. “Our SkyStar 180 system uses a very sturdy and strong helium balloon, and is ideal for observing and protecting fixed sites, such as strategic facilities and checkpoints, or whole neighborhoods.”

The balloons are equipped with high quality network-connected digital video cameras which stream pictures in real time to police units on the ground, enabling security officers to get to the scene of developing unrest and break up the crowd before it gets out of hand. Balloons, said Shmuely, are much better for real-time video surveillance than drones, which cannot remain suspended in the air like balloons.

RT has five versions of SkyStar balloon systems for different needs. They can operate up to three days straight with only a 20-minute re-inflation break after 72 hours. They perform in all weather conditions, have high mobility and a very small logistical footprint, are simple to operate and highly cost effective. RT balloon systems are currently deployed in Afghanistan, Mexico, Thailand, Canada, Africa and Russia.

Jerusalem has already deployed three balloons — over French Hill, Arnona, and Shuafat — with more on the way, said Shmuely. A spokesperson for the municipality said he could not comment on the balloon deployments, but several residents of French Hill commented on the balloons on their Facebook pages, with some applauding the move, but others expressing concern over a potential loss of privacy.

The fact that the city is considering ordering more systems means that the balloons are doing what they are supposed to – providing police with better tools to stem violence, said Shmuely. “Our systems being used around the world, but as an Israeli company we are especially proud to be helping the security situation in Jerusalem.”

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