Flying drones have become commonplace in the skies of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia, but now domesticated drones are starting to fill American skies. Seattle Police are among the first departments in the nation to use the high-tech surveillance tool only recently considered science fiction.
In the 2002 series finale of TV show "Dark Angel," actress Jessica Alba's character Max jumped on a big flying observation drone marked "Seattle Police." Flying observation drones may have been mere science fiction a decade ago, but their use has grown in war, border patrols, and now... police surveillance.
Check out the Seattle Police Department's new toy, the recently purchased Draganflyer remote control surveillance drone helicopter. This puppy can fly for twenty minutes taking pictures and video. It is one of five police-operated drones with Federal Aviation Administration approval. The drone itself is the size of a kite and weighs about three pounds. Washington's Most Wanted got access to Seattle police drone demo:
Using drones for police work is very recent. In December a predator drone on the North Dakota border patrol was called in to help diffuse a standoff over some cows. This led to the first drone-assisted arrests in the country. Weeks later those drones could have helped during the Mt. Rainier manhunt in January as police searched for the killer and unsuspecting campers.
This past weekend near Houston a police drone was taking photos of police officers. Everything is bigger in Texas, and this photo shoot was no different. The drone lost control and fell on a police armored vehicle full of officers. Could the same thing happen here?
Probably not, but there's always a risk. Officers who control the helicopter-like drones have to pass a pilot license certification test. The day of flight the controller and an observer both have to take a flight physical. Restrictions applied by the FAA limit flying to 400 feet up and never in bad weather, not the best circumstances for stormy Seattle. Pilot error is not likely to be the problem. The Texas tank-crashing drone simply fell out of the sky with the vehicle conveniently underneath because it lost signal with the controller. Maybe they forgot to check the batteries.
The FAA is responsible for limiting the use of drones, but under intense pressure to loosen up restrictions. Just last week the AP ran with an article by Joan Lowy saying drones are about to hit the mainstream. Keep your eyes to the sky and be sure to wave to Big Brother.