Public safety agencies show the vast potential for drones in critical public service functions. Public service drones had a dramatic rate of growth in the past two years. The statistics show a strong trend; the number of law enforcement with drones has nearly doubled since 2016. The Bard College, Center for the Study of the Drone, surveyed law enforcement agencies nationwide. Their findings suggest that more than 900 police and emergency agencies have drones. The trend is dramatic, in the five-year period ending in 2015, about 150 agencies initiated drone programs. In 2016 there were 250 new agencies with drones, and in 2017 334 agencies added drones. The current year trend shows a further 120 agencies in the first quarter.
There are still many barriers to the use of drones in the nation’s airspace at maximum scales in the current state of technology and innovation. Among the incentives driving the growth of drones on public service are reduced costs, a more relaxed regulatory environment, and training through high-quality commercial drone classes. As the society gains experience with drones, including the strengths and weaknesses of safety systems, then governments can provide for more usages. The State of Illinois might be an example. Chicago, and Cook County, Illinois, have 11 county agencies with drones. Commercial drone classes can increase the efficiency of force-account staff pilot operators and reduce the need to outsource to contract drone services providers.
FAA and DOT have combined to sponsor studies that will examine some prominent technological issues in expanding drone usage. Their ten demonstration studies will look at the below-listed points of research.
• Night operations
• Detect and avoidance technologies
• Reliability of pilot-UAS data links
• Security of pilot-UAS data links
• Flights over people and package delivery
• Operations beyond the pilot’s line of sight.
When outsourcing, public agencies would be advised to vet their selections to ensure the level of training meets their needs. Drone education provides an additional level of assurance of operator quality than those that do not have formal training.
The usefulness of drones for a wide variety of tasks grows daily. As the usages grow, there will be new and different demands on operators and equipment. The importance of training and preparation through high-quality commercial drone classes is an essential part of the successful expansion of drone usage among public service agencies.