SkySeer UAV Drone Soars Over L.A.

SkySeer, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from Octatron, is being tested for use in police work by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department. The intent is to allow the autonomous reconnaissance and monitoring craft to help with foot pursuit of suspects, as well as watching "people of interest."

(SkySeer UAV with Los Angeles Sherrif)

The SkySeer craft has a 6.5 foot wingspan, and weighs just 3.1 pounds. It cruises for 45-60 minutes at a time at about 23 miles per hour. A remote-controlled pan/tilt camera makes observing easier; the optional thermal camera makes night crime-fighting a breeze.

Octatron's handy NetWeaver Outdoor Wireless Transparent Mesh Routers makes it easy to extend the two mile range of the base station. NetWeavers automatically find each other as they are deployed across a selected territory.

At 250 feet, people on the ground cannot hear the SkySeer at all; it can barely be seen with the naked eye. At $30,000 per unit, they are much cheaper than helicopters. The device is collapsable like a kite; it can be stored in a shoulder pack that is smaller than a golf bag.

Unmanned aerial vehicles have a long history in science fiction. In his 1928 novel Beyond the Stars, writer Ray Cummings imagined the Raytron Apparatus, which could be used for remote surveillance:

Alice and Dolores held the grid between them. Sonya fired the small projectile. It sailed off, a whirling pink ball. It was in reality a small, flat disk with a lenslike eye and a whirling, pink, glowing armature on top.

Over a radius of several miles Sonya's raytron apparatus could direct its flight, and back over the invisible connecting ray came an image of all that the lens eye saw.
(Read more about the Raytron apparatus)

More recently, Larry Niven wrote about a similar device with the same purpose in his 1972 story Cloak of Anarchy:

Twice the usual number of copseyes floated overhead, waiting. Gold dots ageist blue, basketball-sized, twelve feet up. Each a television eye and a sonic stunner...
(Read more about Larry Niven's copseye)

In the last few years, the Dark Angels series has made use of hover drones, UAVs that are universally used by police forces to keep track of particular individuals, especially in places where the police fear to go. Surveillance footage is sent back to police headquarters; video files are kept on suspects.

This is hardly the first use of UAVs by police; the Gaston County Police Department in North Carolina recently caused quite a stir by trying to use a CyberBUG unmanned aerial vehicle to fly in navigable airspace. If you are interested in this area, check out the FLAVIR flapless UAV and the Cloud Swift autonomous soaring UAV. Thanks to an anonymous reader for the tip on this article, who also mentioned a reference to "Eye-in-the-Sky" from Judge Dredd. Read a bit more at the Octatron SkySeer website and at Police launch eye-in-the-sky technology above Los Angeles.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/15/2006)

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