Professional drones, if in the wrong hands, pose a threat to society. Hackers can use the devices to land on buildings and intercept communications. Terrorists can fly the machines into crowds and hit detonate. Stalkers can use drones to track their victims.
However, professional drones also have the potential to improve our security. By providing a bird’ eye view of events as they play out, drones solve police issues. Here are some of the ways police around the world have started using drones to keep us safe:
In the UK, the West Midlands police force has used drones to monitor football matches. The drones capture images in real-time and transmit them back to the force’s command center for analysis. So if there’s a disturbance, the police on the ground soon know about it and can make their way to the affected area. As well as improving response times, the footage is evidence of wrongdoing if the police do need to make changes.
It’s easy to see how the same tactic could apply to other events. For example, protest marches or music concerts. By giving the police eyes in the air, drones help spot hotbeds of violence and tackle problems before they escalate.
Search-and-rescue drones could make it easier for emergency services to find missing people in remote places. Most places in the UK would use a helicopter to patrol hard-to-reach locations, but multiple drones could cover a more extensive area in less time.
Police in Devon and Cornwall use DJI drones to look for missing people. Having identified drones as a cost-effective alternative to helicopters, the devices are valuable to make cuts when budgets are tight.
For the time being, the most significant limitation of these drones is that they can’t recognize people – this is up to the person operating the device. That said, Swiss researchers have invented a software that teaches drones to search intelligently. This kind of technology would help the drones to spot signs of a human trail and identify people. The technology has a little way to go before it picks up on less apparent signs of life, such as an unconscious body, but it would bring a new level of reliability to search-and-rescue drones.
Render of what future police drones might look like
Crime scene recreation
By taking aerial images of a crime scene, drones enable police to create 3D models of what settings would look like. For murder investigations, this could help piece together how a crime unfolded. Although, the technology could also provide evidence for less serious crimes, such as car crashes.
Not only does this improve the accuracy of crime scene models, but combining drones with modeling technology saves time. Before, police would have to measure the distance between buildings and vehicles. Whereas now they have photographic evidence in minutes.
In American states suffering from wildfires, drones have played a crucial part in helping firefighters tackle blazes. Firefighters use drones to identify where fires are spreading and track the location of rescue teams concerning the flames.
It’s easy to see how the technology could work in urban areas too. For example, if firefighters used a drone to track a fire’s progress through a high-rise block, they would better understand the scale of the problem before attempting to enter the building. Also, using infrared cameras, they could see where people are stranded and target their rescue mission.
The level of visibility of drones could help the police deal with armed attackers. For example, drones would help a central control center fix eyes on different scenarios if multiple attacks were happening at once. In addition, of course, the mobility of a drone makes it more flexible than CCTV. A drone also captures images without putting police officers’ lives at risk.
Professional drones: the future of safety and security?
For the moment, limitations prevent drones from becoming an essential resource for emergency services. For starters, the law surrounding drone usage by security forces remains unclear. Until it’s defined, police will feel reluctant to embrace the technology in case of risking prosecution. There are also limitations to the technology itself, such as battery life. Most drones struggle to remain in the air for longer than 30 minutes without charge, which would be a massive setback in an emergency.
That said, professional drones have genuine potential to improve security. By cost-effectively providing heightened visibility, drones could soon become an asset to police and fire services. Moreover, at a time when there’s pressure on the public sector to make a limited budget stretch a long way, drones could prove one part of a broader solution to the government’s spending headache.