Police test drone to take over some helicopter work

Unmanned aerial vehicle to be used for crash, crime scene imagery, not surveillance



RCMP are testing an aerial drone that can hover over crash sites and crime scenes to take photos or beam video back to officers on the ground.

The remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle should help crash analysts get better, faster images to reconstruct what happened.

RCMP Insp. Norm Gaumont, head of traffic services in the Lower Mainland said it will allow police to reopen roads to traffic faster after crashes than when a helicopter has to be called in.

“Sometimes we absolutely need an aerial shot of the scene and we keep the road shut down longer than we need to,” Gaumont said. “This fits in a suitcase and we can have it flying in minutes.”

The Draganflyer X6 – built by a Saskatoon firm – costs $30,000, weighs just one kilogram and can carry either a digital still camera or a high-definition video camera.

Officers are permitted to fly it at altitudes of up to 175 feet and at speeds of up to 30 kilometres per hour.

The lower altitude means it can also get much more detailed images than helicopters.

An officer on the ground can wear video goggles and see what the drone sees.

“There are a lot of potential uses for this technology but it will not be used for any type of surveillance,” Gaumont said.

Similar drones are already used by police in Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Gaumont said the RCMP here will test the unit for one year before deciding whether to buy one.

Some defence industry analysts have predicted the era of manned combat jets is ending – the U.S. F-35 fighter now in development will likely be the last new design before military drones take over entirely.

But Gaumont said he doesn’t foresee that happening anytime soon with police drones shouldering aside helicopters such as Air 1.

“These things are very light and there are a lot of limitations,” he said of the Draganflyer.

The testing will determine how accurate it is and how the craft performs at night or bad weather, he added.