Wasp Micro-UAV Used By Texas SWAT

A Wasp micro-UAV was secretly used in a police operation in Austin, Texas. Agents with the Texas Department of Public Safety wanted more information before raiding the home of a suspect; however, they were concerned that the suspect had high-caliber rifles that could be used to shoot down a police helicopter.

So, they launched a Wasp MAV, created by Aerovironment for DARPA, which provided more than $5 million in seed money for the development of the device (see Stealthy, Persistent Perch and Stare UAVs for more information).

(Wasp micro-UAV)

"The nice thing is it's covert," said Bill C. Nabors Jr., chief pilot with the Texas DPS, who in a recent interview described the 2009 operation for the first time publicly. "You don't hear it, and unless you know what you're looking for, you can't see it."

For now, the use of drones for high-risk operations is exceedingly rare. The Federal Aviation Administration - which controls the national airspace - requires the few police departments with drones to seek emergency authorization if they want to deploy one in an actual operation. Because of concerns about safety, it only occasionally grants permission.

But by 2013, the FAA expects to have formulated new rules that would allow police across the country to routinely fly lightweight, unarmed drones up to 400 feet above the ground - high enough for them to be largely invisible eyes in the sky.

Such technology could allow police to record the activities of the public below with high-resolution, infrared and thermal-imaging cameras.

"Drones raise the prospect of much more pervasive surveillance," said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "We are not against them, absolutely. They can be a valuable tool in certain kinds of operations. But what we don't want to see is their pervasive use to watch over the American people."

Science fiction fans recall the use of flying drones in a variety of stories. The Wasp micro-UAV is probably closest to the robot tracking devices in Philip K. Dick's 1960 novel Vulcan's Hammer.

From Washington Post via Frolix_8.

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