Drones over Los Angeles

Summary:The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has started last week to test unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These small drones, which look like toys, weigh about 5 pounds and are equipped with a GPS device and a camera. They can fly at speeds up to 30 miles per hour for 70 minutes and cost less than 30,000 dollars.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has started last week to test unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These small drones, which look like toys, weigh about 5 pounds and are equipped with a GPS device and a camera. They'll complement the helicopters of the department where it's too dangerous to go. These drones can fly at speeds up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour for 70 minutes and cost between 25,000 and 30,000 dollars. They could even replace conventional surveillance aircrafts within ten years -- and check from the sky what's happening in your garden. But read more...

Let's start with how the AFP summarizes the missions assigned to these drones.

Police say the drone, called the SkySeer, will be able to accomplish tasks too dangerous for officers and free up helicopters for other missions. "This technology could be used to find missing children, search for lost hikers, or survey a fire zone," said Commander Sid Heal, head of the Technology Exploration Project of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "The ideal outcome for us is when this technology becomes instrumental in saving lives."

This drone has been designed by Octatron, Inc. and is called the SkySeer. And why this drone will be useful? Because it's light and can go -- almost -- everywhere.

The SkySeer would also be a helpful tool to nab burglary suspects on rooftops and to chase down suspects fleeing on foot. The plane collapses and can fit into a shoulder pack smaller than a golf bag. Its portability and ease of assembly could be a big advantage for law enforcement. "It's basically a high-tech kite that field officers could set up in a matter of minutes," said Heal.

The image below shows you the major tools of the SkySeer unmanned plane (Credit: Octatron).

The SkySeer unmanned plane

For more technical information about this drone, you can check its characteristics or read this brochure (PDF format, 2 pages, 1.51 MB) from which the image above has been extracted.

And what is the future for such drones? Pretty bright, according to the AFP.

Unmanned surveillance crafts may become the norm in urban policing, says Heal. "Who knew five years ago we would be shooting photos and video with our phones?" he said. "I could see this drone technology replacing some demand for conventional aircrafts 10 years into the future."

Of course, such invisible surveillance tools are not welcome by everybody.

Though the SkySeer is not capable of spying into windows just yet, for some a future of nearly invisible eyes in the sky is an unsettling introduction of science fiction into daily life. "A helicopter can be seen and heard, and one can make behavior choices based on that," said Beth Givens of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "Do we really want to live in a society where our backyard barbeques will be open to police scrutiny?"

But this kind of surveillance already exists. This is just an additional tool for police departments or armed forces. So this kind of tool has probably a bright future.

Sources: AFP, via PhysOrg.com, June 17, 2006; and various web sites

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