With recent natural disasters such as wildfires in California and hurricanes hitting the Southeastern U.S., the public continues to be exposed to aerial drones being used by public safety agencies to help with search and rescue operations, security monitoring, and other applications.
A recent survey sponsored by Cape, which develops a cloud-based platform for drone telepresence, found that more Americans are supporting the use of drones by law enforcement to improve community safety.
For example, in the event of an emergency, 89% of those surveyed said they expect law enforcement and first responders to be able to reach them quickly, with 85% expecting agencies to be able to access and gain total control of any area, regardless of terrain.
The study, entitled “Superheroes in the Sky,” also indicated that a majority of the public knows little about drones, with 84% saying that better education around the impact of drones would make them feel more comfortable about their use for public-safety purposes.
“Safety concerns are on the rise and consumers expect their local law enforcement and public safety agencies to leverage the very best tools and technology to keep them safe,” said Chris Rittler, CEO of Cape. “Today, drones are among the most powerful tools for providing law enforcement and first response agencies with access to the aerial visibility and intelligence needed to ensure the safety of first responders, local residents, and visitors. The agencies that fully leverage these critical tools will be leading the way when it comes to keeping our country safe.”
Robotics Business Review recently spoke with Rittler about the survey and the growing usage of commercial drones by public safety agencies, as well as their impact on public acceptance.
Public safety drones for security, rescue, first response
Q: Within the public safety sector, are groups more interested in using drones for security or for search-and-rescue operations?
Rittler: Today, we see public safety agencies leveraging drones across several use cases, from event and personnel security to disaster recovery and search and rescue – even using drones as first responders for real-time situational awareness.
The data from our national study on consumer drone perception indicates that the use of drones for event security is an area where we will likely see increased adoption. In fact, 69% of Americans say that recent terrorist attacks have increased their concern about safety when attending large events, and 66% consider the level of security that will be present before deciding to attend.
In light of those increasing concerns, 87% of Americans say they would feel safer if drones were used for improving security at large events. We are working with several agencies to provide Cape-enabled drones for enhanced security at upcoming holiday events. We expect to see them relied upon for upcoming New Year’s Eve celebrations across the country as well.
More public safety agencies are integrating drones into daily emergency response operations. For example, in Mexico, one police department used Cape-enabled drones to reduce the city’s crime rate by more than 10% and improve emergency call response times by 90%.
As part of the UAS Integration Pilot Program in Chula Vista, Calif., we are pioneering a new “Drone as a First Responder” approach to drone integration in partnership with the Chula Vista Police Department.
Drones are dispatched to high-priority calls that come in within a certain radius of the headquarters, where it is launched and acts as a first responder to the scene. This approach is not only helping the department to better allocate resources where they’re most needed, but it’s also giving responding officers critical visibility before entering potentially dangerous situations.
We are also increasingly seeing agencies turn to drones to help in search and rescue and disaster recovery efforts.
For example, following a natural disaster like the wildfires in California, drones can be used to gain better visibility when searching for victims, or those stranded and in need of help, or to survey damage and better understand containment or current threat levels.
They can also be used by insurance companies to expedite the claims process for those affected, or by telecom providers to inspect impacted cell towers to restore communications.
Regardless of a specific application, public safety agencies are seeing the benefits of drone integration to drive operational efficiencies and improve the safety of both their responding teams and of the communities they serve.
Need for education, transparency
Q: The survey also indicated a need for education and transparency around drones. Where do you think this education will happen – will it be performed by drone makers, service providers like Cape, or the companies/agencies using the drones?
Rittler: Ultimately, driving widespread adoption and support of drones for public safety will require cooperation and education by all participants – drone makers, technology and service providers, the companies and organizations that use drones, and also the FAA and governing bodies that create and oversee the regulations.
Our study shows that support already exists, but there is work to be done to address a major consumer education gap with regards to drones. Today, only 42% of Americans consider themselves to be familiar with drones and their uses, and 76% see them as toys.
But after being educated on the impact of drones, consumer support skyrocketed, with 94% of Americans saying they believe drones have the potential to improve public safety.
Consumers are ready to embrace drones as a key tool for ensuring their safety, and they’re very clear on what’s required to earn and keep that support – 84% say better education is key for making them more comfortable, and 88% want transparent communication about how they’re being used.
We’ve seen firsthand the positive impact that drones can have in communities around the world. Cities like Chula Vista are great models for how to gain community support for drone programs through consistent, transparent communication and engagement.
Q: Beyond public safety, where are you seeing most interest in drones from current or prospective clients?
Rittler: We continue to see strong usage of drones and growth for Cape in public safety. That said, in 2018, we have also seen growth in both oil & gas and telecom, where drones are really revolutionizing the way companies think about asset inspection and other critical, but highly manual and time-consuming repetitive tasks. Moving into 2019, we expect this to be a major area of growth.
Q: What are the advantages of remote telepresence for drones, offered by your platform?
Rittler: The Cape Aerial Telepresence platform offers full drone telepresence and data management, and easily integrates with existing off-the-shelf drone hardware. Onside drone operators launch Cape-enabled drones. Then, once in flight, up to 50 credentialed users can log in to the Cape platform via any Internet-connected device — desktop/laptop, or via the Cape Spectator app on IOS or Android device — to simultaneously view the live stream in real time.
What makes the platform even more impactful is that it allows for fast, easy, and safe remote operations – or tele-operation – of the drone. So the right person or expert can take control and manipulate the drone from anywhere in the world to get the exact visibility needed.
For example, in the telecommunications or oil & gas sectors, companies can more quickly and safely conduct tower or well inspections. Today, these highly manual tasks require major time, money, and resource investments, and often take team members away from much more meaningful tasks.
With drones, expert technicians can more efficiently perform routine or emergency inspections remotely and access real-time data from anywhere in the world.
We’ve also seen this capability help expedite things like new facility builds, or inspections during merger and acquisitions for oil & gas operators. Where those traditionally required a ton of individuals traveling to sites to check progress and inspect assets, with Cape, all required team members can remotely monitor the project to speed approval timelines and drastically reduce travel spend.
Q: We’re nearing the end of 2018 and looking forward to 2019. What big trends do you see happening next year in the area of commercial drones?
Rittler: In 2019 and beyond, usability, safety, security, and ease of integration will ultimately define the winners in the commercial drone space. As more IPP [FAA Integration Pilot Program] deployments roll out in the coming months, and we get additional data on adoption and impact, I think we’ll see a lot of discussion in 2019 around how the regulatory environment must change to support innovation.
Today, the regulations aren’t keeping pace with the available technology, and that has to change. We believe we’re at an inflection point today. Just like smartphones changed the way we do business, offering access to new data and untethering teams, drones are doing the same.
About 10 years ago, we were talking about the explosion of the Mobile Enterprise. Now we’re seeing the rise of the Aerial Enterprise. It’s not just about buying and using a drone – how do you connect drones and the data they can collect to other existing systems and business applications? We’re proud to be on the forefront of helping companies leverage all of the benefits that aerial visibility and intelligence offer.