LONDON—Merseyside police proudly announced earlier this month how they had apprehended a fugitive running in fog from a stolen car in the first arrest made with the help of a flying drone.
A heat-imaging camera mounted on a rotor-bladed Air Robot the size of a hub cap had tracked a 16-year-old male to bushes after he fled a stolen car.
But it was the only arrest the drone was to assistas it was grounded soon after, when authorities realised it had no licence.
But the controversial drones may yet get universal clearance throughout European civil airspace if government-funded research is able to find a solution in satellite technology.
After a press statement on February 12th about the first arrest with the aid of a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Merseyside police have had to make it clear that these machines will not be used until accredited by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
On January 1st the CAA had changed its rulings concerning UAVs, but Merseyside police had not noticed.
The restrictions of the new statutory regulations are in line with European airspace rules.
What is of most concern is that the privacy aspect is being completely ignored. The problem, it seems, is that the CAA thinks UAVs are dangerous because they have no pilot.
Dylan Sharpe, Campaign Director at Big Brother Watch
But a study being done for the European Defence Agency, says communication via satellites could handle UAV flights. Aerospace and defence group EADS hope to show public experiments next year which demonstrate how the drones can be flown safely throughout European airspace via satellite link-ups.
The grounding of the drones has been welcomed by civil rights organisations who are still concerned about the future. Dylan Sharpe, Campaign Director at Big Brother Watch (BBW), wrote on the BBW website: “This is a very worrying development. We are already watched by more CCTV cameras than any other country on earth without the state surveillance network expanding into the skies above us.
“What is of most concern is that the privacy aspect is being completely ignored. The problem, it seems, is that the CAA thinks UAVs are dangerous because they have no pilot; yet no one is asking whether these drones are actually necessary or a dangerously intrusive next-step on the road to a surveillance state?”
The battery-powered drone has a top speed of 30 mph with a ceiling of 122 metres (400 feet) and comes with flashing police lights. It can be assembled in a few minutes and can be controlled from about 460 metres (1,500 feet) away by one officer using video specs which look like those of Geordi La Forge from Star Trek. Direct sight of the UAV is unnecessary as its whereabouts can be checked onscreen.
The AR100B aerial drone is made by Air Robot UK and costs £40,000. Its non-military use can extend to helping farmers manage crops, backing ambulance crews and fire fighters, as well as tracking fly-tippers and anti-social drivers. The authorities hope to use the machines to help police the 2012 Olympics in London. Derbyshire Police used a spybot to monitor a British National Party event in August last year.