Ramblings & ephemera

L.A. police using drones to spy on citizens

From Zachary Slobig’s “Police launch eye-in-the-sky technology above Los Angeles” (AFP: 17 June 2006):

Police launched the future of law enforcement into the smoggy Los Angeles sky in the form of a drone aircraft, bringing technology most commonly associated with combat zones to urban policing.

The unmanned aerial vehicle, which looks like a child’s remote control toy and weighs about five pounds (2.3 kilograms), is a prototype being tested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. …

“This technology could be used to find missing children, search for lost hikers, or survey a fire zone,” said Commander Sid Heal, head of the Technology Exploration Project of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “The ideal outcome for us is when this technology becomes instrumental in saving lives.”

The SkySeer would also be a helpful tool to nab burglary suspects on rooftops and to chase down suspects fleeing on foot. The drone comes equipped with low-light and infrared capabilities and can fly at speeds up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour for 70 minutes. …

A small camera capable of tilt and pan operations is fixed to the underside of the drone which sends the video directly to a laptop command station. Once launched, the craft is set to fly autonomously with global positioning system (GPS) coordinates and a fixed flight pattern.

As technology improves, the drone will be outfitted with zoom capabilities. For now, the craft simply flies lower to hone in on its target. …

“The plane is virtually silent and invisible,” said Heal. “It will give us a vertical perspective that we have never had.”

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department operates a fleet of 18 helicopters, priced between three and five million dollars each. The SkySeer will cost between 25,000 and 30,000 dollars.

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