Under plans submitted to the British government, vulnerable women who walk alone at night could be protected by the watchful gaze of surveillance drones.
Women under threat of being stalked or in fear of an attack could use a phone app to summon a drone, which would arrive within minutes and shine a spotlight on the location. The drones, equipped with cameras, would capture anything within their sights and ward off a potential assailant.
The Telegraph reports that the drone system will be given an initial test run at a university campus to protect its students and staff, but its inventors at Drone Defence believe that unmanned drones could ultimately take the role of police helicopters at a fraction of the cost to perform search and surveillance.
A team of former police officers and Civil Aviation Authorities put together the plan to submit to the government for funding under its Innovate research program, which is designed to promote and develop cutting-edge technology in the U.K. Similar funds were used in the 1980s to develop Britain’s software and computer hardware technology, putting its industry ahead of other European countries and on par with U.S. tech companies.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Richard Gill, the founder of Drone Defence, which developed the technology, said that the trial at Nottingham University aimed to demonstrate whether drones could be a cheaper, less noisy alternative to police helicopters for the public.
He said that the plan came to fruition in the wake of the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by former police officer Wayne Couzens, which prompted a nationwide outcry over violence against women.
Under the program, anyone who fears an attack or believes they are being stalked could summon a £35,000 ($47,326 USD) Aeroguard drone through an app, which will arrive in minutes. Using artificial intelligence, the drone will automatically track the user’s phone signal while flying at a height of 200ft and will be monitored from a control room by a qualified pilot ready to take over if necessary.
Upon arrival, the drone will automatically shine a spotlight to ward off the potential attacker while filming them for future prosecution. A drone pilot could likewise summon the police and take action to support the victim, if necessary.
“We aim to get a prototype off the ground in Nottingham for £500,000 ($676,097 USD),” said Gill. “It is a high capability drone that costs just £100 ($135 USD) an hour but can do 80 percent of what a police helicopter can do. It cannot do high-speed pursuits but it can do the other tasks such as searching for people and ground surveillance.”
“It will take about a year to put together as a proof of concept that drones can provide support for people at a fraction of the cost and in minutes rather than tens of minutes,” he added.
Helicopters, in contrast, cost up to £3,200 ($4,327 USD) for the police to operate. The helicopters in use by the National Police Air Service are equipped with the same surveillance cameras as the new drones, but are noisier and use fuel rather than electricity. The only edge they have on drones is their speed and range.
However, despite its speed and range, drones can be deployed almost instantly, in contrast to the twenty minutes it takes to prepare a helicopter.
“London on average has a police helicopter above it for eight hours a day. For the same price, as they currently pay for the helicopter, you could have 25 drones offering 250 flying hours per day. This would need five base locations across the city,” said Mr Gill.
British police have already started trials for long-range drones to replace helicopters in the pursuit of suspects and locating missing persons.