Drones and security applications

February 24, 2021

Drones and security applications.

The internet, GPS, microwave and duct tape are just some of the many military inventions which have transformed the way we live and work. While commercial drones are non-weaponized, miniaturized descendants of their big brothers, the role of commercial drones as effective security platforms have taken time to find their wings.

For years, applications for commercial drones as viable security platforms have largely been ‘hit and miss, illegal, and literally flights of fancy, until now.

What’s Changed?

But what’s changed? Mostly, we have seen the cost of drone systems decrease; the relaxing and the improvement of flight regulations such as beyond line of sight operations and most importantly an improved tech stack to draw on. These tech advances include greater autonomy; extended flight times; the Internet of things (IOT); increasing 5g coverage to support autonomous flying and data; improved sensors, particularly within the thermal (infrared) spectrum and stereoscopic cameras.

These forces are converging to create multiple, practical and cost-effective security applications for specific scenarios, as with security needs, a one size fits all solution is bound to fail. From community safety to border patrolling, access control, events, industrial plants and more, drones are increasingly able to keep intruders out and protect staff and investments. As with their older and larger military siblings, the best use of drones is their ability to cover large areas of ground faster than land based and fixed security systems.

Overcoming Costs and
New Applications to consider

Much of the challenges surrounding mass adoption and scaling of drone delivery is economics and the bias towards existing supply chain infrastructure. It was a question, which the Lancet Medical Journal analysed when they compared delivery programmes using motorcycles and UAVs during the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Their conclusion was that drones become more cost effective the longer the range (100km). However, what is more important is that they created a benchmark for comparison, which is useful for medical and government authorities when evaluating new proposals. (Amukele, T)

The costs of drone operations have decreased dramatically since the height of the Ebola crisis in 2015 due to innovations in design and growth in market size, while arguably road transport costs and risks associated with transporting on poor roads will remain if not increase. While swarms of UAVs delivering vaccines are unlikely in the near future; the likelihood of them being used to deliver vaccines in rural areas is possible with test kits already being distributed in Ghana. Moreover, in a comparative computational study, drone delivery increased vaccine availability and decreased costs in all sensitivity analyses ($0.05 to $0.21 per dose administered), proving that drones are increasingly more cost effective, safer and efficient if used frequently enough to overcome set up costs. (Poljak M, Sterbenc A)

Mining

As an early adopter of drones for surveying options, blast management, and more, the mining sector has helped fast track and provide proof of concept for the commercial drone sector. As a high-risk environment, security and surveillance have been a major source of escalating costs for mine owners. Now mines can deploy solutions depending on location and need. By using a fixed wing drones with longer flight times that provide a beyond line of site and wide-angle virtual eye in the sky which scans for threats, theft, and intruders. Operating beyond line of site is a key differential in the fight against theft on site; particularly for platinum and precious stones, which are easily smuggled. If intruders, or theft is detected, copter drones can be deployed for close up inspections, flying in restricted areas or when more flexibility is required.


Industrial Plants

For owners of industrial plants, smelters and oil and gas facilities; patrolling these multi-million-dollar asset sites is challenging from a cost and risk perspective due to their size and man power restrictions. To counteract this, drones can now perform several key tasks from surveillance, gas detection, identifying structural weaknesses, and more depending on mission objectives. New developments in technology, chiefly autonomy has created a new range of security applications for autonomous drones, which can be operated on 4g and 5g networks that fly either predetermined routes or activated by alarm systems.


Railways and Ports

Theft, criminal behavior, smuggling and other types of criminal behavior at railyards remains a major concern for operators, owners and various stakeholders worldwide. In an effort to patrol these sites and create a force multiplier, authorities in India and South Africa, as well as other emerging markets are turning to drones to continuously survey and patrol high risk sites with significant success in reducing criminal activities.


Cable Theft

Even with helicopters equipped with Flir thermal camera and operators, the battle to stop the theft of electric cabling has been a long running challenge, particularly in South Africa, costing the economy hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Now drone operators positioned at strategic locations and equipped with thermal or RGB sensor can detect movement in key locations or detect illegal access points. By reducing the cost of surveillance and deploying live feeds, authorities can gather greater data and information to create more effective countermeasures.


Home Security

While flying over neighborhoods presents a number of privacy challenges, large private estates can conceivably overcome these objectives through their own homeowners’ association rules. As such, estates can now use drones for surveillance and as an active security deterrent. By equipping drones with infrared cameras, operators can adopt a more proactive approach to prevent crime.


Festivals, Expos and Sports

With tens of thousands of visitors, festivals are high risk and challenging security operations. Drones can now provide higher vantage points for security operators and police and have been deployed at festivals such as Coachella and others for a variety of objectives. Additional applications include inspecting perimeter breaches, crowd disturbances and monitor traffic around the venue.


Wildlife Security

Drones are increasingly being deployed in the fight against well-armed and funded poaching syndicates. Smaller and able to cover large distances, drones provide a first line of detection for security forces to deploy. Long range or fixed wing drones can fly preprogrammed routes or provided added security to rangers on patrol.


Rural Security

As policing in rural areas remain challenging, numerous farming communities and policing forums are looking to drones to provide a solution to reduce their vulnerability. Deployed from central command centres, drones equipped with thermal, RGB or stereoscopic lenses can detect intruders, monitor stock, orchards and personal safety. In comparison to helicopters, which for the most part are unequipped with night vision to conduct after dark operations in rural areas, drones provide a viable and smart security platform.


Risk Assessments

From an active security deterrent to being used as an intelligent assessment tool, drones are a powerful tool for risk assessment. These drones can be used to acquire real time data and create digital twins, which can help to create more accurate and advanced security protocols and responses.


Automation

The market for drone security applications is growing. The recent granting of a license for American Robotics to operate drones remotely without humans on site by the US’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will help unlock further value across a multitude of sectors, but particularly in security. In theory a control room hundreds of kilometers away could monitor and deploy drones for surveillance and other objectives safely and at a lower cost.


The Last Word

Security remains a concern for all, especially in isolated and developing economies; where policing and security services are often under resourced. Drones, and in particular, autonomous systems, which collect data and can be rapidly deployed, or operated remotely, can help create security solutions that are robust, adaptable and a vital tool in the war against crime.

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