Homeland Security visiting Silicon Valley drone makers
SILICON VALLEY, Calif. (KTVU) - Officials in Rio are trying to deal with as many as three unauthorized drones that have been hovering over an Olympics stadium.
The issue has prompted the Brazilian military to purchased drone blocking software and hardware.
Drones present a security threat even though it's likely the work of hobbyists or paparazzi.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been visiting drone makers, some in Silicon Valley, expressing interest in acquiring special purpose drones to enhance security.
KTVU visited a Silicon Valley start-up that has come up with a drone that security professionals crave: drone with staying power on high.
The 20 pound drone is the creation of Skyfront, a Menlo Park-based firm. Unlike other similar sized battery powered drones, this operates like a Chevy Volt electric hybrid; a gasoline motor spins an electric generator that powers the propellers.
"In doing so, we're able to fly for ten times longer. So, instead of 20 to 30 minutes, we're able to fly for about four hours," says Troy Mestler, founder of Skyfront'.
Representatives of Homeland Security told Skyfront and other drone makers that they were looking for drones that can do a wide variety of surveillance tasks centered around border protection whether drug interdiction of terrorism.
"They're interested in using drones as a force multiplier for their agents; basically expanding their effective range by a factor of ten," says Mestler. This can be accomplished through live feedback or recorded video daylight or infrared. Properly equipped, they could also intercept communications, use facial recognition and other technologies to identify people or activities on the fly or in a hover. "They're able to basically have a drone take off, go out for 5 to 10 miles, do some surveillance and then come back," says Mestler.
The bonuses - many drones can carry the needed equipment and do the job for 1 to 10% of manned aircraft costs. They can be dispatched in an instant, autonomously taking off, doing the mission and returning all by themselves getting far better and faster pictures than satellites can deliver. At a cost of some $50,000, these drones can work together for far less than numerous manned planes or helicopters. "One of the really exciting things about drone technology is that they can talk to each other and they can cooperate and they can, what they call, 'swarm,'" says Mestler.
With numerous backup systems, the drones are more reliable than commercially available drones. They operate high enough to avoid most ground fire if they can be seen or heard at all. And, they are highly encrypted to avoid hacking.
Police agencies are also interested in integrating this technology. The only potential dangers - misuse of them by authorities or criminals who acquire them.