When Congress passed a bill last February allowing unmanned drones to fly American skies it became only a matter of time before UAVs patrolled U.S. cities for local law enforcement.
While most drones in the U.S. are flown along the Mexican border, the Orange County Sheriff's Office wants to put them over metro Orlando within the next few months. The Greater Orlando metropolitan area is home to more than 2 million residents and is Florida's third largest city.
Dan Tracy at the Orlando Sentinel reports the local sheriff wants a pair of unarmed UAVs able to record the activities of everyday citizens and criminals alike.
From the Sentinel:
Sheriff's spokesman Jeff Williamson ... would not say exactly how the drones would be used, he wrote in an email that they might be deployed when looking for explosives, barricaded suspects and to inspect "hostile/inaccessible terrain" or at train accidents.
As for civil-rights concerns, Williamson wrote, "The OCSO has the privacy of its citizenry as a foremost concern. The device will only be put into operations on the command of the high risk incident commander."
The sheriff still needs the County Commission to sign off on the request before it goes to the FAA for approval. The federal agency should have no problem accommodating as it was ordered by Congress to get as many drones as possible into the air by November, and be able to handle 30,000 UAVs by 2020.
Though Orange County refused to specify which type of drone it would be flying, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department fought to fly Octatron's SkySeer surveillance drone over its jurisdiction in 2006 after a long battle with the city. The manufacturer has since been working closely with law enforcement agencies to coordinate networks and platforms, making it a reasonable choice for the Orlando Sheriff.
SkySeer™ is a lightweight, portable, autonomous-flight UAV designed for single-person operation. It weighs less than five pounds, flies quietly, can be assembled in minutes, and is hand-launched. It has a flight time of 70 minutes and is recoverable through a normal landing or parachute-based vertical landing (optional). GPS coordinates (latitude/longitude) can be programmed into the Ground Control Station so the SkySeer™ can fly to a specific point of interest. The flight path can also be set by pointing and clicking GPS waypoints on the ground controller, giving the operator full control over the UAV’s air-borne activities as well as the operation of its equipment, such as cameras. The video can be recorded to a DVD or Flash media at the ground station. The night version SkySeer™ includes a thermal camera that allows filming in total darkness. A stealth surveillance mission at night at 250’ has been demonstrated. The two-mile range of coverage can be extended using NetWeaver™. Training is required to fly a SkySeer™
Octatron now offers the SkySeer to any law enforcement office with the proper FAA paperwork. If Orlando does go with the Skyseer it should be convenient, as the company's sales office is listed down the road in St. Petersburg, Florida.
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