Amazon has been planning upon the use of drones for delivery for packages to buyers under Amazon Prime Air Service. But at least three other groups have already tried the same technology. Domino’s pizza’s domicopter and Taco Bell’s Tacocopter have so far not succeeded in launching their airborne delivery machines. But the most interesting one is Seattle’s city police department’s experimental drone program to enforce public safety mechanism in a completely new fashion. They purchased two Dragonflyer X-6 helicopter Tech unmanned aerial vehicles in 2010. Neither the city council nor the public knew of the police drone program until 2012.
These drones look like toys rather than being a threat and the police department intends to use them for surveillance purposes. They have built-in cameras that take still pictures, videos and infrared shots that can be viewed live. The battery life is less than ten minutes and the 35 pound dragonflyer cannot carry anything that weighs more than 35 ounces. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have given the PD to operate these drones. In addition to the PD, ideally these drones can be used by firefighters, smoke jumpers and other public safety agencies in dynamic ways, meaning drones can actually save lives too.
The acquisition of these unmanned aerial vehicles have raised issues about privacy of citizens, the use of technology in law enforcement and the alleged militarization of police work. Although the police department has drafted policies to prevent unauthorized, inappropriate or illegal use of the drones, there is a lack of strict guidelines by Seattle city government regarding policies and procedures on how these vehicles can be used, what information can be gathered, with whom it will be shared and how long will it be stored. Also, FAA has restricted flying of these vehicles over an area with people for safety reasons.
The drone technology itself is fascinating and can be used for multiple purposes. Perhaps in the future, we may see the use of drones beyond package deliveries, public safety reasons and bombings. However, it is no easy task to bring all the stakeholders on board.