[News] High hopes for drone in LA skies
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 7 11:36:27 EDT 2006
High hopes for drone in LA skies
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known
as drone aircraft, are about to be launched for
the first time by the police in Los Angeles.
UAVs have long been used by the military in war
zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. But the
technology has been adapted for domestic use and
could revolutionise the way law enforcement
agencies carry out surveillance and rescue operations.
The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) has
been experimenting with a drone called SkySeer,
which it intends to put into service later this month.
SkySeer looks like a remotely controlled model
aircraft. It has a wingspan of 6.5 feet (1.98m)
and weighs 4 pounds (1.81kg). A camera is
attached to its belly and a small battery powers the drone.
"It has a video link that sends data in real time
down to our ground station - the operator can
then see, in real time, what it's seeing,"
explains SkySeer inventor Sam De La Torre, from
Octatron Inc - a surveillance technology firm.
The SkySeer has been designed for quick and easy
use by police officers on the street. It can be
folded up and stored like a tent in a backpack.
"Within five minutes he can have the aircraft assembled,' says Mr De La Torre
"You just push the take-off button, the motor starts up and you throw it."
The UAV can fly at any height. At 250 feet above
the ground, it can clear a 25-storey building and is almost invisible.
The Sheriff's Department is keen to start using
the drone in situations where conventional
crime-fighting is either impractical or too expensive.
At a cost of approximately $25,000 - $30,000
(£13,400 - £16,000), the UAV is considerably
cheaper than a helicopter. But the device's
practical applications are generating the most excitement amongst officers.
"It provides several things that we can't get
other ways," says Commander Charles Heal, head of
the LASD's technology exploration project.
The UAV's ability to hover in virtual silence
over an accident or crime scene, without any risk
to a pilot, provides both a tactical and economic advantage.
It is envisaged that SkySeer will be put to use
when children go missing down a hillside in difficult terrain.
To save time and minimise the risk to rescuers,
the UAV will be used overhead to pinpoint the location of a victim.
"It has different cameras - colour, low light and
even infra-red - and so as a result of that we
can even find heat signatures that are coming
through the bushes and overhead," says Commander Heal.
With burglaries, the police say the SkySeer will
be used get an aerial view of a building where
someone is believed to have broken in through the roof.
You simply point the camera at a suspect and keep following
Commander Charles Heal
head of LASD technology exploration project
The conventional approach is to call the fire
department to bring in ladder trucks, allowing
officers physically to climb onto the top of a building.
"If the suspect really wants to hurt you, your
head is the first thing that he sees. Now we'll
have the ability to actually to fly this over and
see if it is even worth doing a containment."
The UAV utilises an onboard compass and GPS
system for its command and control. It flies to a
location that is predetermined by the operator on a laptop.
The developers are working on a so-called cyber
command post to enable images to be viewed,
anywhere in the word, in real time.
"If we're flying over hazardous material or
something that we can't recognise, we can have a
subject matter expert, maybe not even in the
country, in a different time zone, that is
actually watching the exact same information that we're getting.
'Big brother' surveillance?
"We will be able to incorporate his subject
matter expertise into our decision making process," says Commander Heal.
The SkySeer will also be used to back up officers
on the ground if they are pursuing a suspect on
foot. Flying at a speed of about 30 mph (48 kph),
the police believe it will be impossible for a
suspect to outmanoeuvre the UAV.
"You simply point the camera at him and keep following."
The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has only one
prototype SkySeer at the moment.
When it goes into service, the force's SWAT
[Special Weapons and Tactics] unit will carry out
the initial evaluation in real-life situations.
Commander Heal is quick to point out that it is
not their intention to launch 'big brother' style surveillance operations.
"There's no place in an urban environment that
you can go to right now that you're not being
looked at with a video camera and you have
nothing to fear from your own government - you
are being watched by your fellow citizens," he says.
"The only time that this is ever going to be
operational is in some kind of emergency condition."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/06/06 12:40:04 GMT
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