Drones armed with cameras and sensor payloads have been used by military and border control agencies for decades to improve situational awareness. Commercialization now has brought more UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, to market—making such eyes-in-the-sky an invaluable tool for law enforcement.
Here are five drone technologies worth watching:
ELIMCO’s E300 with FÉNIX
The ELIMOC E300 is a UAV with a large payload capacity and low-noise electrical propulsion. The E300 can be launched remotely and operated for 1.5 hours with a radio control from up to 27 miles away. However, during night flights, the E-300 can loiter around an area for around 3 hours and get as far as 62 miles from the launching point. Similar UAVs, like the Predator, have been used recently to apprehend a cattle thief and his armed sons in North Dakota. Depending on the payload, these UAVs can cover a wide area more quickly than a patrol officer on foot. For a night incident, the UAV built with specific night-vision payloads can fly directly above an area where a foot pursuit is unfolding to record video that is geotagged and transmitted in real time relayed down to mobile command centers.
L3 Communication’s Viking 400-S
The L3 Viking 400-S Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) is integrated with Autonomous Take-Off and Landing (ATOL) technology supplied by L3 Unmanned Systems' flightTEK system. The UAS operates for up to 12 hours and can be equipped with up to 100 pounds of payload technologies, including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) detectors to protect officers responding to a man-made incident, such as a dirty bomb detonation. UAS payloads carrying high-resolution cameras can capture bird’s-eye images of a an incident, which can help commanders identify a suspect’s location and deploy resources with full-situational awareness, such as whether a suspect is armed or hard-hit areas and prioritize resources. Images captured are transmitted wirelessly back to into a GIS software suite for mapping an affected area and later reporting needs.
Information Processing Systems’ MCV
Information Processing Systems (IPS) Mobile Command Vehicles (MCV) and incident command mobile carts are deployable, customized, public-safety vehicles that integrate aerial, ground and subsurface remotely controlled robotic platforms. MCVs basically are custom mobile ground control station for UAVs and other public-safety robotics. They are modified Ford trucks that can house security cameras, sensors, radar and communication infrastructure. The truck can be outfitted with trailers to carry drones, which then can be commanded from within the center. Having a mobile command center for drone deployment allows investigative or response teams working in remote areas to take their entire communication system with them to launch a UAV or drones over a wildfire and map out affected areas. In urban areas, an aerial video provides actionable information so commanders can make informed decisions at the incident—whether at a bombing or a bank robbery.
Switzerland-based Sensefly’s eBee drones are tiny compared to other drones; they have a 37.8 in wingspan and weigh 1.5 pounds. The foam airframe eBee drones are equipped with a rear-mounted propeller and feature a 16 megapixel camera to shoot aerial imagery at down to 3cm/pixel resolution. The drone has a flight time of up to 45 minutes, which is long enough to cover up to 10 miles in a single flight. In addition, users can pre-program 3D flight plans using Google maps prior to deployment, with up to 10 drones controlled from a single base station. Then, using its Postflight Terra 3D-EB mapping software, it can create maps and elevation models with a precision of 5 centimeters and process aerial imagery into 3D models.
eBees theoretically could be used as a lightweight, deployable drone that can be added to police officers’ gear to improve situational awareness. It can be deployed at a scene to discretely enter a building through an open window or other small entrance. In the future, 3D models from the video may display on officers’ smartphones. The information can be transmitted to incident command and stored for later use.
The Kaman Unmanned K-MAX multi-mission helicopter is an unmanned aerial truck (UAT) based on the K-MAX heavy-lift aerial truck helicopter. The unmanned K-MAX helicopter has 6,000 lbs. of payload capacity and can move gear and personnel in and out of an area without endangering additional personnel. Imagine providing supplies to law enforcement in the field with precision aerial delivery in high-wind, hot conditions without further risk to life or when personnel resources are stretched too thin. This ranges from delivering food, water, fuel, blood or even radio communications missions, such as sending the UAT to place data relay stations or communication equipment to a remote mountain top.
With continued commercialization, drones will become more pervasive in law enforcement to provide real-time situational awareness and increase officer safety.