The drone industry is growing at an incredible rate, and yet many applications for the technology and opportunities for use in new industries have yet to be imagined. With the current boom in drone use comes a completely new industry centered around manufacturing drones and creating the additional technology that helps to expand their use. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects that by the end of the 2018 fiscal year, there will be over 1.2 million registered drones in the United States alone.
Several law enforcement agencies in the United States have been implementing the use of drones for several years, including the Arlington Police Department, the Mansfield Police Department, and the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, among many others. Law enforcement professionals refer to drones as Unmanned Aerial Systems to distinguish them from their military cousins and to reduce public anxiety. Projections for 2019 suggest deployment of Unmanned Aerial Systems will roughly double.
The Los Angeles Police Department intends to add several UAVs to its inventory for use in some tactical situations in 2019. The LAPD approved a $31,500 budget for the purchase of these new Unmanned Aerial Systems on a one-year trial basis.
The price for each Unmanned Aerial System can range from $7,500 to more than $30,000, depending on the aircraft’s level of sophistication. Cheaper drones are generally equipped with high-resolution cameras and can operate during the day, whereas the more expensive versions include various sensors and thermal imaging technology specifically designed for law enforcement. The pricier, more advanced drones allow them to operate in almost any condition.
While the LAPD has yet to fly any Unmanned Aerial Systems, the yearlong trial program, approved by the Police Commission last fall, will begin as soon as the department purchases the drones and trains its officers on how to use them safely. The Los Angeles Police Department believes its Unmanned Aerial Systems policy contains strict enough guidelines and the proper oversight to allow the one-year test to move forward. The policy dictates that only SWAT teams can fly Unmanned Aerial Systems. Further, it specifies that they will only be used during extremely specific, high-risk situations. The department also approved UAV use during search-and-rescue missions or while searching for armed suspects who have tactical advantages or are in the possession of extreme firepower. Under the test program, flights must be approved by high-ranking officers so they can be properly documented and reviewed. The Police Commission will be given quarterly reports that will also be provided to the public. At the end of the one-year test, commissioners will review how the drones were used and decide whether to continue their use on a regular basis.
Large fire departments, like the Houston Fire Department, have been employing the use of drones to accomplish tasks which help them improve the safety of firefighters and rescuers while saving lives. Fire departments around the country are expected to follow in their footsteps by increasing spending similar to the increases we see in police departments in 2019.
Though a much smaller community, the Great Bend Police Department, along with the Great Bend Fire Department, are adding a shared drone to their departments in 2019. Their clever solution to accommodating their town’s relatively small size is to share the use of a single drone. Each department will have at least one trained pilot, so if the police department needs to operate the drone when their pilot is not around, a trained pilot from the fire department can be called to the scene and the other way around. If the fire department is busy with an emergency situation, a trained police officer can operate the drone, which is slated for purchase in 2019 and will be put into action as soon as the pilots have their FAA licenses and complete the proper training.
Department of Defense
By far, the largest increase in potential UAV use for 2019 is in the ledgers of the Department of Defense (DOD), which has requested approximately $9.39 billion for drones and other related technologies in the fiscal year 2019 budget. The DOD proposal includes funding for the purchase of over 3,000 new air, ground, and sea drones. The 2019 budget proposal represents a substantial increase in UAV spending over the requested budgets of previous years, which have contained up to roughly $7.5 billion in drone-related spending, and orders for only 800 drones.
From disaster relief to construction to our military, drones are becoming increasingly more common in everyday life. 2018 saw a substantial increase in industry investments across the board, most notably among the military, equipment suppliers, and in the mapping and surveying industries. Now, state and local governments are eying their budgets to see how they can fit in UAV spending to improve services in the areas they govern in 2019.