A county sheriff’s office in Texas used a homeland security grant to buy a $300,000, 50-pound ShadowHawk helicopter drone for its SWAT team. Randy McDaniel, chief deputy with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, said earlier this year his office had no plans to arm the drone, but he left open the possibility the agency might decide to adapt it to fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.
McDuffee, who works for Insitu, a Boeing Co. subsidiary that designs and builds drones, called the wide range of drone aircraft “the next latest and greatest thing in aviation,” noting that there’s interest from law enforcement, first responders, scientists and private industry, such as farmers who want to monitor or spray crops. The permits are issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is working on new rules that will greatly expand legal uses.
The drone market is expected to nearly double over the next 10 years, from current worldwide expenditures of nearly $6 billion annually to more than $11 billion, with police departments accounting for a significant part of that growth.
Earlier this year, Congress, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Defense and drone manufacturers, ordered the FAA to give drones greater access to civilian airspace by 2015. The mandate, besides applying to military drones, applies to drones operated by private companies and government agencies, including federal, state and local law enforcement.
But privacy concerns have already prompted members of Congress to introduce bills to prohibit any government agency from using a drone to “gather evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct or conduct in violation of a regulation” without a warrant.
McDuffee said there are many uses for drones that wouldn’t generate controversy. For example, scientists have used drones to monitor airborne pollution levels and numbers of sea lions in the Arctic and to monitor hurricanes.
“They go in places where you would never consider risking a human life,” he said. He added that drones also could be used to create temporary communications networks after natural disasters, if regular service went out.
“They’re almost like miniature satellites,” McDuffee said. “That’s the beauty of these systems.”<< previous 1 2