There is wide agreement that drones have been a game-changer in the fields of law enforcement and search and rescue. From locating missing persons, traffic collision reconstructions, real-time investigations, crime scene analysis, disaster response and surveillance, drones offer law enforcement agencies a bird’s eye view of scenes which until recently were unavailable. One of the most obvious benefits of drones is their ability to reach places that are either unattainable or too dangerous for humans. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have also become the preferred vehicle for data gathering and other routine functions once only reserved for costly helicopters. In many ways, drones are the future of crime fighting and search and rescue operations.
“When selecting a UAV for law enforcement, you need to consider what the mission will be,” said Sergeant D. Marek of the Nevada Highway Patrol. “UAV’s are particularly helpful in three missions – crime scene/crash documentation, search and rescue and overhead situational awareness.”
When looking for a UAV that can assist in all three missions, Marek looks for the following characteristics:
- Ease of use and set up on scene. Operators should be able to get to the scene and power up the controller that has a built-in screen, all within five minutes.
- Multiple payloads which are able to be swapped out. A fixed focus camera with a high resolution can be used when documenting a crime scene. However, an infrared camera would be a benefit in a search and rescue or hazardous material mission. A camera with zooming ability is also useful in an overhead situational awareness mission.
- Extended battery life. The longer you are in the air performing the mission instead of going back and forth to the landing zone for battery replacement is helpful to all involved. An extra two minutes of flight time can be essential to find the lost hiker.
- Durability. A larger more powerful UAV is better for flights in strong winds and allows for the pilot to maintain visual contact at greater distances.
When lives are at stake, it can be difficult to speak about cost and efficiency, two words which have a misunderstood relationship in the drone industry. The sticker shock associated with the price of a high-end commercial drone can be jaw-dropping. Law enforcement agencies and search and rescue operations, for examples, are spending up to as much as $25,000 for UAVs that are limited in flight time and radius, lack the ability to operate efficiently in less than ideal weather conditions and have less than desirable operating systems. It’s not uncommon for some organizations to purchase consumer drones at the fraction of the cost of ones with commercial applications, with the belief they can perform the same tasks while at the same time showing cost savings to their bottom line. Nothing can be further from the truth. Manufacturers don’t design consumer drones for commercial UAV purposes and crossing the lines usually result in damage to the technology purchased and certainly in substandard results of fulfilling the task at hand, potentially grounding the important eyes-in-the-sky at critical points in the operation.
Furthermore, consumer drones lack the sophisticated ground station necessary to perform tasks associated with commercial usage. Operators are also utilizing less-expensive consumer drones for commercial purposes to cut their losses in the event of a fatal malfunction to the product.
While drones continue to expand their reach and value in the law enforcement industry, the demand for sophisticated detail has outpaced the industry’s obligation to provide a more affordable solution to meet its customer’s demands. Desired and necessary features such as extended flight time, maximum optical zoom capacity, megapixel cameras and high-definition video display come with a hefty price tag.
While prevailing logic dictates the higher cost of a UAV is an indicator of the product’s efficiency, it avoids one of the most pertinent questions the drone industry faces today: How do manufacturers effectively bridge the gap between the needs of commercial users and customer affordability without compromising the efficiency and reliability of the product?
While new drones are entering the market seemingly every month, AEE’s Mach™ 4 is an efficient example of a drone that offers a cost-effective solution for the needs of all areas of law enforcement and includes many of the same applications associated with UAVs that are three-to-five times more expensive. Measuring a little over two feet in length, the Mach 4 is capable of traveling at speeds close to 40 miles per hour and flight times up to 40 minutes. Its sophisticated Y-12 ruggedized ground station and flight control system offers an easy, steady and precise control experience. Other features such as an extended range transmission system from bird to downlink help to give rocksteady video when really needed at the critical point of documenting the inspection. High-definition video with a 10x1 optical zoom with adjustable pan and pitch control lens and a forthcoming advanced optical dual scan IR-4K RGB payload make the Mach 4 a viable solution for cost-conscious law enforcement users who are looking for state of the art performance on an industry-leading cost to performance platform.
A basic requirement of any drone performing a search and rescue or surveillance is to keep its eyes on the target and be stable for as long as possible in order to return clear data and imagery. Challenging conditions such as winds, dust, rain and snow – coupled with a short flight cycle, make even the most routine tasks difficult.
With a 40-minute flight time, the Mach 4 stays on target up to 10 minutes longer than other commercial drones and is well-equipped to handle 18 mph headwinds. Dust and water aren’t friends to drones, but the Mach 4’s conformal coating, on target to receive an IPX5 rating, protects it against foreign elements.
Often times, the flight direction and aim point of the camera are not the same, especially in high winds. The Mach 4’s 10:1 payload, encased control system and advanced gimbal adapts to any environment and provides for a 320-degree panoramic pan control with unobstructed viewing along with a retractable gear with an 80-degree range in tilt that allows it to check for targets in the most challenging position.
While many users in the law enforcement field have had to either pay the hefty cost of a drone equipped with a large sensor payload with limited or no zoom capabilities, the Mach 4’s 10:1 payload allows for images to be viewed up to 10 times greater and in a stabilized manner, thus providing the desired clarity. Its 1080p live video downlink allows inspectors to view any target in real time.
As drone-powered missions continue to have significant impact on the positive outcomes of law enforcement situations, drone manufacturers strive to gain a better understanding of the operators’ needs in relation to the price point of its UAV products.
Most commercial drone companies started as consumer companies and increased their manufacturing to address the needs of the commercial user. AEE, on the other hand, has been a significant player in the commercial and law enforcement UAV market for more than a decade, producing high-end, six-figure surveillance and inspection UAVs. AEE’s top-down approach has successfully addressed a significant industrial inefficiency in the drone marketplace.
“UAVs are typically an extension of an IT department, collecting data for live or post-event analysis, and security of information is an important consideration, particularly when dealing with highly sensitive operations.” added UAV expert Douglas Spotted Eagle, Director of Educational Programming for Sundance Media Group. “Law enforcement agencies must realize that incorporating such drones involves a regulated industry, which proscribes training, policies, and procedures that mesh with existing policies and procedures while providing the maximum impact from the investment for the organization.”
Users shouldn’t have to choose a $1,500 consumer drone because of a fear of flying a product which is priced 20 times higher. While the industry, in general, is not efficiently addressing the needs of the consumer, AEE continues to make decisions that will have a major impact on customers with mission-critical operations who want more choice, convenience, and control with the use of the technology.