Technology opens new chapter for drones team


Our 'eye in the sky' drones, which are shared with Nottinghamshire Police, have been given an upgrade that could save lives and catch criminals quicker by live-streaming footage instantly to key decision-makers.

The new drone capability means senior officers are able to direct resources to respond more quickly to dynamic incidents.

The drones team was launched in January 2020 and has since established itself as one of the most effective in the country, helping to locate vulnerable missing people and detain wanted suspects.  Until recently, however, officers on the ground had had to rely on the verbal commentary of the drone pilot in order to respond to events.

The addition of the new live-streaming capability allows aerial footage to be beamed directly to the force and incident commanders or any other officers who wish to view it.  The new technology will be especially useful for crowd control, intelligence operations and real-time deployments to track dangerous suspects.

Andy Turner, Station Manager at Mansfield Fire Station, said: “The recent addition to the drone’s capability has served to enhance how information can be gathered at an incident.  The drone is now regularly being mobilised to incidents that involve searching for persons, such as rescues from water and height.  Since the introduction of the live-streaming capability the Service has utilised the footage to identify the location, and determine the extent, of fires in large buildings and woodland.”

Chief PC Pilot Vince Saunders said: “So far the drones team has been a huge success.  Our pilots have literally helped to save several lives and we have also had a vital role in detaining several dangerous suspects.  What’s more we have also saved the force tens of thousands of pounds that would otherwise have been spent on helicopter deployments.

“Until now, however, we have been operating within a technological limitation which has limited what we’ve been able to do and prevented us from using this new technology to its fullest potential.  We have wanted for some time to add this resource to the drones team and were delighted with the results of a recent trial.

“This new technology will be particularly useful for things like crowd control operations because officers in our command suite will now be able to make decisions and deploy resources according to what they see with their own eyes.  That’s a big step forward for us as a team and has really added another string to our bow.  I know also that colleagues at the Fire Service will also be able to benefit from this new technology.”

The drones team, made up of 17 volunteer pilots and four drones, is on hand 24/7 to carry out pre-planned and emergency response operations.

So far, the team has helped to find 16 vulnerable missing people, secured more than 52 arrests and gathered a range of high-quality video evidence.

Its latest and most expensive drone, a £20,000 DJI Matrice 300, also has the ability to pinpoint and follow targets on a map and a laser rangefinder that can give accurate geolocational data from a distance of up to 1,200 metres away.  It also brings considerable improvements in battery life, durability, speed and range and has a thermally equipped camera capable of a 200x zoom, allowing pilots to get highly detailed images and identify heat sources from almost a mile away.

Police forces across the UK have been using a variety of platforms to give aerial views of people and events since the 1920s, from airships and fixed-wing aeroplanes to helicopters and drones.

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