Examining the potential of law enforcement UAVs

The use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) for none-military applications is gaining pace with the announcement that Thales UK will be doing extensive research on the technology with the view to developing a strategy that would give civil policing and homeland security services access to the technology for the first time.

Jul 26, 2007
By David Howell

The use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) for none-military applications is gaining pace with the announcement that Thales UK will be doing extensive research on the technology with the view to developing a strategy that would give civil policing and homeland security services access to the technology for the first time.

The technology has a number of applications, particularly in the civil policing sector. It’s not expected that UAVs would ever replace manned aerial surveillance, but it is hoped that other tasks such as aerial photography and other imaging capabilities could be built into future UAV aircraft. The police in particular are interested in persistent tracking systems. Surveying an incident from the air, for example, the Buncefield oil storage depot fire and the recent Virgin train crash in Cumbria, which happened in a remote location, are ideal applications for the technology.

For police forces, the use of UAVs must be clearly within the context of current airspace usage. ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment) is a major £32 million programme to open up opportunities for the civil use of UAVs.

Nick Miller, business development director of UAV Systems, said: “ASTRAEA is fundamental to positioning the UK as a major player in global access to airspace initiatives. A key area is working with the regulators to create an environment to enable UAV systems to improve and ultimately to provide sustainable benefit to the police forces for homeland security and crime prevention.”

For UAV deployments to offer police forces a real and tangible benefit they have to show that the technology can be deployed quickly, and within urban environments, and have built-in obstacle avoidance and navigational capability to enable them to operate with a high degree of autonomy.

With 3D mapping systems coming on stream, the UAV could become an essential component of every force in the not too distant future.

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