Drones promise to change the future of everything from warfare to package delivery — but first, let’s start with fender benders.
The NYPD, which announced last month that it had launched a small force of remote-control aircraft, is starting to use them to clear traffic accidents.
“Instead of waiting an hour or two for a car from the precinct to show up” to make a report of a car accident, Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said, “they can send a drone over and be there in 15 minutes.”
Richards, chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee speaking in Howard Beach at a cop-community meeting earlier this month, outlined a future where an eye in the sky can be used to clear up collisions in a blink.
His committee has just authorized funds to add more drones to the NYPD’s unmanned air force, as soon more cops can be trained and licensed to operate them, he said.
In early December, the NYPD said it had established a group within its Tactical Assistance Response Unit to fly the 14 new drones it had bought on the commercial market last fall.
The first operational test was supposed to be New Year’s Eve in Times Square but heavy rain grounded the drones.
All sorts of uses are envisioned for the drones after they are integrated into the department’s day-to-day operations — from evidence searches to hostage situations to hazardous material spills.
There are serious technical limitations to them however, as the New Year’s Eve experiment dramatized.
The devices can stay aloft only 15 to 20 minutes due to their short battery life.
The drones have also raised alarms among civil liberterians who are concerned they could be used to gather intelligence on unpopular groups or peep in the windows of suspects without authorization.
Richards and several other Council members are working on a package of new legislation to regulate how the drones can be used. “There will be hearings sometime after that,” said a spokesman for Richards.
In the meantime, the drone force is being put to use documenting simple traffic accidents.
Details of how the first uses of the drones as accident monitors have gone are hard to come by. Requests to talk to officials in the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad have not been successful.
None so far has been used in Queens, an NYPD spokesman said last week. But they are coming.
At a demonstration over a police training facility in the Bronx last month, department “pilots” showed NYPD brass and a select group of city officials how the drones could be used to video and photograph accident scenes.
In the case of a fender bender or parking-lot smack-up, the plan is to have the drones take photos and return to their base.
“Investigators would follow up later” and write up the official police report that insurance companies require, said Richards’ spokesman, who attended the demonstration with the lawmaker.