Smart Cities Using Streetlight Drones to Track and Respond to Gunshots

There’s one specific use case for drones that I’ve been thinking about for the past decade, waiting for it to get implemented – active policing with streetlight drones using AI technology.

Yes, drones are already used in a variety of passive police work situations – monitoring crowds, search and rescue in remote areas for criminals or lost citizens, and crime scene documentation. But having drones automatically deployed based on specific sounds heard in a city that’s different.

Picking Up Where ShotSpotter Leaves Off

When it comes to audio-based, rapid police response, though, law enforcement up to now has relied on very impressive fixed-base ShotSpotter technology. The system uses sound sensors strategically placed high up on buildings and other structures throughout an urban area.

When these sensors detect what might be a gunshot, AI technology quickly determines if it in fact was a gunshot. Then it identifies the exact location within a few feet based on triangulation calculations from multiple sensors. This data is confirmed and then passed on to local law enforcement. According to the company, this location identification process happens within 60 seconds.

But then the response lag begins. Depending on many circumstances, responders typically won’t arrive on the scene for another few minutes at the earliest. A lot can happen in those next few minutes. Victims can die, and assailants can leave the scene.

From a policing standpoint, the sooner they can “get eyes” on a situation, the quicker they can respond in the best possible fashion.

Placing policing drones with surveillance cameras in strategic areas throughout a city, such as on streetlights, and enabling remote or autonomous operation puts them in a position to do far more policing quicker than it would otherwise happen. The alternative is to bring the drones on the scene and then deploy them, which is also too slow.

Remote drones will reduce these response time lags and be the first eyes on the scene. How much policing they are allowed to do once they arrive on-site remains to be seen.

Remote Drone Responders on Standby

The Louisville Kentucky Metro Police Department could be the first police force in the country to put this capability to use. They first need to get a waiver from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations that require line-of-site drone piloting and prohibit anyone from flying drones above populated areas or at night.

Specifically, the Louisville Police would like to sync their ShotSpotter system with a fleet of remotely dispersed autonomous drones so that upon confirmation of a gun discharge the drone would self-route to the site and surveil activity on the ground.

Conceivably, these dispersed drones could also be dispatched to fly via remote control or autonomously for immediate surveillance upon receipt of a critical 911 call.

In these cases, once the drone gets on the scene, flight controls could be taken over by a remote operator who then could position the drone and control the cameras, sensors, and other instruments to maximum their response.

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