Use of Modern Small-unmanned Aerial Systems
There are three use cases where the modern small-unmanned aerial systems are growing rapidly: public sector, private sector and individual citizens or hobbyists. In Canada, the use of drones in the public sectors include federal, local, municipal authorities and law enforcement agencies, which significantly holds the largest group that operate drones domestically for mainly cost-efficiency (Dillingham, 2012). Similar strategies could be applied to other countries that use drones for the same reasons.
For the public sector, authorities use drones in several ways. They are used in intelligence-gathering, public safety operations, reconnaissance, law enforcement, customs and border patrol, object targeting, first responder, commercial aerial imaging and emergency services (Dillingham, 2012). As mentioned earlier, Canadian law enforcement used drones more than other areas in their public sector. The authorities there even suggest a range of applications for drones that include a list of capabilities a drone should be capable of performing. The list covers most of the situations drones could be used to perform jobs that were manually performed by different agencies in the public sector.
According to Bracken-Roche (2014), the uses suggested included the following: conducting search and rescue, locating survivors during disaster response operations and identifying hazardous material. The drone applications should also include capabilities that assist with assessing fire-related damage, taking aerial photos of hidden areas for crime prevention, locating evidence and performing reconnaissance of suspected explosive devices before officers are put into harmful situations. In addition, the uses should include ways of assessing environments following chemical, radiological, nuclear, biological and explosive events. Other beneficial part of drone uses would be to assist with observing crowd behavior or flow of persons and traffic, videotaping training exercises for assessment/feedback purposes (Dillingham, 2012). The potential drone uses could grow much larger for the public sector. This would support the observation that drone usage is growing rapidly in the public sector. The number of uses that could be created to accommodate each department within the civil authorities needs to keep up with demand.
In the United States, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been using several Predator drones along the U.S. border with Mexico since 2005 and hope to expand that program. The CBP drones patrol the entire length of the Mexican border and were even made available to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and local police (Brodsky, 2012). Other law enforcements agencies such as local Police departments have received permission to fly drones and include: Miami, Florida; Mesa County, Colorado; Houston, Texas; Arlington, Texas; Ogden, Utah; and the State of Hawaii (Brodsky, 2012). These are just few examples in the United States where drones are allowed to be used for law enforcements activities.
In the private sector, drones are used in a similar way and many of the uses mentioned in the public sector are being used there also. The drones used in the private sector support information gathering in various segments such as research organizations, mineral exploration, agricultural, telecommunication companies, private media organizations, as well as film and
television production industry (Privacy Commissioner of Canada, 2013). Even big companies like Amazon and Google are all looking to expand their services using drone capabilities.
For example, Google’s interest in integrating image-capturing capabilities for its services such as Google Maps and Street View could be one example where companies could use drones to assist part of their operation. Amazon’s interest in drone technology to provide short-hop delivery flights is yet another example. However, Amazon would have to keep up with ongoing
engineering challenges to ensure the drones are able fly with enough power and energy depending on payload weight and still be able to travel specific distances (Privacy Commissioner of Canada, 2013). The choice of payload technologies drones could carry is only limited by the imagination of engineers.
For example, in surveillance use, Bracken-Roche (2014) mentioned that additional visualization and technology sensors that could be added to a drone that make it flexible in performing multiple tasks. This means as the technology expands, more opportunities for intelligence-gathering activities such as conducting infrastructure inspection, natural resources monitoring, digital mapping, broadcast services and wireless communication expands as well (Privacy Commissioner of Canada, 2013). In other words, the payloads or devices that could be attached vary significantly according to the size of the drone. For instance, bigger drones could carry more, depending on the purpose of the payload or the technological characteristics of such devices. Bracken-Roche (2014) discussed this in a range of advanced surveillance technologies that can be mounted on drones.
These technologies include high-power zoom lenses, night vision, radar technologies, video analytics technology, facial or biometric recognition, Wi-Fi information and cyber-attack.
For each of these technologies, Bracken-Roche explained their capacities and importance. For example, high-power zoom lenses technology would be very handy when collecting real-time video or image capture from a distance that is unnoticeable to the object or the target that is being investigated. For night vision technology which has several types and capabilities, they mainly enable drones to detect and improve detailed information of the target. For radar technologies, they can help access areas such as buildings or walls, obstacles that would otherwise make it difficult to track individuals or objects that need to be detected. For video analytic technology, the data collected could be analyzed to recognize patterns and assign resources based on data gathered from the past or a database as a means to direct intelligence analysis as well as providing a live feed. For facial or biometric recognition, algorithm based calculation software is used that allows the drone to detect and identify biographical characteristics such as height, skin color, age and gender (Bracken-Roche et al., 2014). As much benefits as they could provide, technologies like Wi-Fi information collection leads to potential cyber-attacks as packet files could be intercepted or sniffed during wireless network communications.
In addition, GSM technologies could be mounted on drones to catch IMSI information from mobile devices, in addition to jamming capabilities and decryption tools (ROBINSON JR, 2011). All the different types of technologies that can be mounted on drones are important to address in this research paper because they provide answers to why drone usage is growing so rapidly. Furthermore, all these technologies would have to be examined if they were mounted to a drone that needed to be forensically processed. However, the technology and flexibility also makes drones more appealing for the individual citizens to use as a hobby.
Use of drones within an individual citizens’ community is increasing just as much as the private and public sector, if not more. There are several reasons why drones are increasingly being used by individual citizens as opposed to the public or private sector. Beside the drone uses mentioned earlier for the public and private sector, one of the main reasons is for recreational purposes, such as photography or political activism. For example, in Australia, activists used a $17,000 (AUS) drone to gather video intelligence on an industrial livestock operation of an egg farm that claimed to be a free-range and sold its eggs at a premium price. To investigate this, aerial footage was gathered using drones to prove whether the claim was true or not (Bird, 2013). This and other recreational drone usage lead to rapid market growth for SUAS usage.
The market for drones had risen since their use migrated from the military to the civilian sector. According to Dillingham (2012), the estimated amount of money spent on drones will be $89.1 Billion by 2024 and 30,000 drones will be flying in American skies in 20 years. This makes sense from a business perspective. It is much cheaper to fly a drone that accomplishes the same task as an aircraft or helicopter. For example, flying in (an Aurora helicopter) for $10,000 – $14,000 an hour is much more expensive than flying a drone with a medium-altitude and longendurance for $1,500 – $2,000 an hour that can carry equivalent payloads to complete the identical task (Bracken-Roche et al., 2014).
For larger budget analysis, Cavoukian’s (2012) report noted that drones had been expected to constantly move toward smaller platforms because of their cost-effectiveness and easy management. Therefore, the cost of small-unmanned aerial systems has been a great selling point. An example of this is the ongoing process of miniaturization of sensors, computing elements, controls and data link solutions. A drone system that includes a ground operating computer can cost less than $50,000, while a police helicopter performing the same job function can cost up to $1 million (Cavoukian, 2012). These kinds of savings are the main market driver of drones, which leads to more drone usage. More drone usage means higher potential for a drone to be involved in criminal investigation, which leads to the following section.