The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), programmed to capture high resolution images at a distance of 20,000ft, could be in use by Kent and Essex Police as early as 2012. Designed to operate in potentially hazardous environments, the drones have been used by British troops in Afghanistan to monitor enemy action and were originally intended to boost maritime surveillance and border controls.
But documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed they will now be used for the “routine” monitoring of anti-social motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly tippers. The collaboration between Kent and Essex Police and BAE Systems, called the South Coast Partnership, was launched in 2007. Developed by BAE Systems, a prototype drone, equipped with cameras and sensors, is due to take flight this year.
Andrew Mellors, Head of Civil Autonomous Systems at BAE Systems, said: “From 2012 fully autonomous unmanned air systems could be routinely used by border agencies, the police and other government bodies.”
He told the Police Aviation Conference in 2007: “These systems will be fully autonomous so that operators task the vehicles and receive the relevant imagery and intelligence direct to the ground control station in real time.” Unlike manned police helicopters, which can fly for only a few hours, the UAS can stay in the air for up to 15 hours and can take off and land at the click of a mouse, the developers have said.