Crime-fighting flies high for 2010


Law enforcers “seriously” consider robot planes for the Soccer World Cup.The SA Police Service is considering acquiring unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – in effect robot aircraft – to help the fight against crime and assist with crowd control during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Police spokesman superintendent Vishnu Naidoo says the police are “seriously considering” acquiring several UAV systems because of their “positive aspects”.

Among these are their economy, manoeuvrability and quick turnaround time, which Naidoo rates as “excellent”.

The aircraft are also smaller and quieter than manned aircraft or helicopters, allowing police to observe criminals at some leisure from up close, without the criminals being aware of this.

One South African UAV manufacturer, Denel Dynamics, recently showed ITWeb video footage taken off Gansbaai, near Cape Town, some years ago, showing poachers harvesting perlemoen. The UAV recorded the crime and followed them to shore, where police were waiting.

When the poachers saw the waiting law enforcers, they threw their catch overboard, but this had also been recorded and could be recovered for use as evidence.

Although the UAV was loitering neither very high above, nor very far from the poachers, they were totally unaware of its presence.

One per stadium

Naidoo says the police would ideally want one UAV system per stadium – of which there will be 10. “We are buying one mobile command centre per stadium, one water cannon, so we`d like one UAV per stadium as well.”

The police spokesman cautioned that no decision had been made on an actual buy, or the type of equipment. “At the moment, we are exploring the best option in terms of manufacturer and model and determining the need.”

SA was an early adopter of UAV technology and among the first to allow them to fly over built-up areas and “controlled airspace” – that part of the sky where pilots are guided by air traffic controllers.

The Civil Aviation Authority and the South African aerospace industry in June formed a committee to develop regulations, policies and airworthiness standards to allow UAVs to routinely fly in controlled airspace, a step that will be necessary to realise the police`s ambition.

The UAV system typically consists of several of the pilotless aircraft, a mission control unit that, in some cases, is little more than a laptop with the requisite software, a tracking and communications unit to link ground control with the aircraft, the actual payload (often one or more digital cameras and a laser rangefinder), as well as the necessary field support equipment.

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