US-1 drone helps SWAT defuse a hairy situation
Image: Impossible Aerospace

Recently, when drones have made headlines, it’s been for their utility with rapid package delivery, emergency search and rescue, and their ability to transform warehouse operations. However, a recent incident in Northern California highlights how drones can be a powerful tool for law enforcement agencies as well. After 12 tense hours, police were able to end an armed standoff without loss of life thanks in part to a new type of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

A little after 5 a.m., an unidentified man got into a heated argument with a grease trap cleaner and a customer at a Campbell, California Denny’s. The altercation escalated to the point where the customer threatened the cleaner with a gun.

After the firearm was brandished, the restaurant was safely evacuated but the armed guest refused to leave. A local SWAT team was dispatched to the scene and tried to flush out the suspect using a flash-bang grenade and an audible diversionary device to no avail.

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Police then turned to the US-1 quadcopter drone manufactured by Impossible Aerospace. Using the US-1, the police were able to triangulate the suspect’s position via thermal imaging. With that information, the SWAT team employed a tear gas-like chemical agent to force the man out and he was arrested after peacefully surrendering.

What Makes the US-1 So Effective

Although it is similar in size to DJI’s ubiquitous Phantom line of drones, the US-1 UAV can stay in the air much longer. DJI’s flagship Phantom 4 offers a max flight time of 28 minutes. The US-1 can stay airborne for up to two hours. That higher level of performance was crucial in resolving the Campbell standoff. Police kept their US-1 up for 45 minutes so they could position their attack to outflank the suspect.

The US-1’s remarkable battery life is due to its unconventional design. As opposed to being powered by one or two packs, the US-1 has batteries installed throughout its masts.

Impossible Aerospace CEO Spencer Gore drew inspiration for his drone’s unconventional construction from his time working for Tesla. While working for the automaker, Gore was part of the team that worked on developing the unique skateboard-style powertrain build for the Model X and Model 3.

The thermal camera-equipped version of the US-1 costs $10,000.

The Eye in the Sky has a Badge

Campbell is only one of many local Police Department’s to utilize drones in their law enforcement efforts. Earlier this month, police in the California city of Chula Vista used a drone to track and apprehend a suspect in a domestic violence case. Last December, the New York City Police Department announced plans to deploy 14 new drones for the purposes of crowd monitoring, search and rescue, and crime scene mapping. In 2017, a Tukwila, Washington SWAT team used a drone to conduct a raid on a suspected gang hangout.

Given their speed, versatility and proven effectiveness, even more regions are looking to integrate drones into their police operations. Currently, bills in Indiana and Florida are currently under consideration that would expand the use of UAVs in policing. In fact, some parts of the country are making plans to use drones for more aggressive forms of policing.

In 2015, North Dakota lawmakers authorized the use of weaponized drones armed with beanbags, pepper spray, rubber bullets, stun guns, and tear gas.

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