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August 10, 2017
Drones at the border
By: Mark Smith

In a move to ever-digitalise business and governmental services, drones are progressively becoming accepted into their current and future-state operating models.

A drone, or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is an aircraft either controlled by ground pilots or autonomously by a pre-programmed mission. Their use is not a fad or a trend ‘here today and gone tomorrow’. It is a genuine technology innovation that can benefit both the private and public sector. Drones can carry sensors to perform dedicated functions capturing large amounts of data quickly, making them appealing cross-industry. They allow for staff to be utilised elsewhere; are more time-efficient; cheaper; and can access places deemed too unsafe and high-risk for persons.

And it’s happening today. Devon and Cornwall Police have zoom-function thermal imagery drones to help search for missing persons and for photographing crime scenes. Swedish Medical Services are currently testing the defibrillator drone that can beat an ambulance in arrival time to help people suffering from cardiac arrest. The US military have launched 103 miniature swarming autonomous surveillance Perdix drones able to dodge air defence systems and share a distributed brain, from a fighter jet during a test in California. China’s military have released new deep-sea drones to detect submarines. Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority have released The Water Spider from its patrol boats when responding to marine emergencies.

Drones are also increasingly being used as part of border control, globally. They are deployed at the Italy-France border to identify migrants crossing into France, as well as thermal imaging camera drones on the French side of the Channel Tunnel to track potential asylum seekers crossing into the UK. In the US, sensor technology with facial recognition capabilities have been added to drones which allow the cross-referencing of identified persons with law enforcement databases; this data can then provide information to Border Protection including potential threats.

Indeed, the first duty of the government is to keep citizens safe and the country secure – and the Home Office has been at the forefront of this endeavour since 1782, playing a fundamental role in the security and economic prosperity of the United Kingdom. With a rising security threat and the challenges in the control of immigration, there continues to be a necessary hunger to understand new innovations, tools and technologies.

Drone technology should be a priority in this debate, with drones providing the Border Force with a so-called 'digital wall', enabling a safer and fool-proof alternative to the harder border which presents a target to breach. There are a plethora of robotics companies offering cutting-edge technical features, with platforms with the capacity to visualise complex three-dimensional physical environment data in real-time on smart devices from anywhere in the world. At the border, these capabilities mean that border agencies can protect physical structures and groups using high definition cameras and facial recognition software.

With it being a new and revolutionary technology, there are of course several concerns and issues – from hack-to-hijack to drone regulation, from safety protocols to ethical standards and privacy – that industry and governments need to address. However, as the earlier examples demonstrate, progress is being made and real change felt in agencies around the world … and now is the time to consider the opportunity further in the UK too. 

See this post on LinkedIn: Drones at the border

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