I’m always looking for positive commercial applications for UAV technology and one of the most obvious sectors is based on civil applications that provide support to law enforcement and emergency responders.
Too often, to members of the population at large, UAVs are seen as military weapons platforms used during recent overseas conflicts. This perception has raised concerns from privacy advocates, led to a flood of state and federal legislation and started the process of regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration. Congress and 39 states, including Arizona, have considered measures to limit the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Three states — Florida, Virginia and Idaho — have already passed regulations.
For these reasons I think it’s very important to high light the positive impact UAVs can have on the domestic economy and showcase positive applications.
Benjamin Miller, manages the drone program for the Mesa, CO., County Sheriff’s Office, said the office started flying UAVs instead of conventional aircraft because of the cost savings. UAVs are about $25 an hour to operate, compared with $250 to $1,000 per hour for a traditional aircraft.
Miller flies a backpack-sized helicopter and a small fixed-wing UAV that can fit the trunk of a car. These UAVs have been used at fires, to find missing people and, recently, to survey a local landfill, saving Mesa County almost $10,000.
Miller had the idea to start using drones five years ago and said that in four years his office has flown more than 40 missions. Miller, who said Mesa County residents have supported the drones, told a U.S. Senate committee recently that the potential for invasion of privacy did not start with the development of UAVs.
“Any tool can be abused. This sad reality is not unique to law enforcement nor did it begin with unmanned aircraft,” Miller told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.
Miller, whose office is one of 22 local law enforcement agencies with approval to operate drones in the United States, testified that under current FAA rules, officers can only use drones within sight for short, specific missions, which prevents infringement on privacy.
Approval for use from the FAA was not trivial to obtain.
After nearly twelve months of interaction with the FAA a COA (Certificate of Authorization) was obtained and testing started using the Draganflyer X6 in a one square mile area at the County Landfill (per the restrictions of the FAA/COA). The COA was then modified to allow flight anywhere in Mesa County, Colorado, during daytime hours. The office has flown over 35 missions, logging over 160 hours of flight time. During these missions the group assisted the Colorado State Patrol with aerial photos of crashes, the Grand Junction Fire Department with the White Hall fire with hot spot sensing and aerial photos, provided support for suspect apprehension and more.
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