[News] High hopes for drone in LA skies

Anti-Imperialist News 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.

'Almost invisible'

"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.

Pinpointing victims

"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:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/americas/5051142.stm

Published: 2006/06/06 12:40:04 GMT

© BBC MMVI


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