Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been at the center of intense controversy for years. The lethal use of General Atomics’ MQ-1 Predator and Reaper primarily by the CIA in the Middle East and the perceived threat to privacy that the technology poses, drive much of the skepticism we see and hear about drones today.
However, the recent Nepalese earthquake has reminded us of the enormous benefit UAVs can provide in disaster relief – and in fulfilling the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) mission.
In environmental disaster situations, UAVs can provide unparalleled situational awareness. UAVs enable the mapping of affected areas, provide detailed imagery to assess damage, locate victims and help first responders determine passable and impassable access routes. UAVs may also be used to deliver food and medicine to areas that cannot be reached from the ground. Looking further into the future, UAVs may also provide medevac capability in areas that are cut off from hospitals and clinics.
Currently, UAVs are helping to patrol the US border, but many additional applications remain to be developed. For instance, UAVs can provide a cost-effective platform capable of inspecting critical infrastructure such as pipelines and electric transmission lines in remote areas. Surveillance and monitoring of sensitive areas such as ports and airports, as well as search-and-rescue operations in remote areas such as desert regions, offshore areas and major inland waterways also can be supported by UAVs. In law enforcement, UAVs can be used to keep a suspect “in sight” while a pursuit is underway in urban or rugged terrain environments.
Read the complete report here in the June/July 2015 Homeland Security Today.
Michael S. Braasch, Ph.D., is the Thomas Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, and a principal investigator with the Avionics Engineering Center at Ohio University. He’s been involved in the research and development of a wide variety of aircraft navigation systems for the past 30 years. He’s also a fellow of the US Institute of Navigation and an instrument-rated commercial pilot.