The Draganflyer X6 Helicopter is the first North American, federally approved, commercially manufactured UAV legal for use by emergency services in North America. The Saskatoon Police and Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) will begin using the Draganflyer X6 in police investigations.
The Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the Regina Leader-Post, and the Calgary Herald newspapers published the story below on March 10th, 2009.
The Saskatoon police will begin testing a world-renowned local invention this summer to do aerial photography of crime scenes and collisions.
The force will test pilot the Draganfly X6, a mini-helicopter and the brainchild of a local company, Draganfly Innovations Inc., that has been making remote-control flying machines for more than a decade. They will become the first police service in North America to use such a device to aid investigations inside a city.
“It’s like a toy,” said Sgt. Jerome Engele, who spearheaded the movement to use the mini-helicopter and tested one at a police conference in Ottawa last year. “But it’s a lot more stable and has a lot of capabilities.”
The small remote-control helicopter, which uses six horizontal blades, has a built-in camera to help with aerial photography and video. Up until now, police have had to rely on beam trucks to take aerial photographs and capture images of an entire collision scene. That can be tedious, Engele said.
The software, which can extrapolate data from photographs based on a few measurements, also cuts down the time police have to remain on scene, he said.
“Say we have a major artery blocked in excess of eight hours,” he said. “Well with this we hope that we can do all our measurements and free that freeway up within half the period of time.”
The $15,000 Draganfly X6, though compact, is still regarded as an aircraft and comes under aviation regulations, so the company needs to demonstrate it can be operated safely in cities and has utility for police in investigating crimes.
The pilot project will be watched closely by government and police agencies across the world, as companies such as Draganfly have been lobbying to have the vehicles granted wider use in cities.
“The potential is huge,” said Kevin Lauscher, 52, a retired police officer who went to work for Draganfly two years ago. “It gives police another view and an overall picture of a crime scene.
“These are small steps but this one is big because it’s the first time in North America this has happened.”
The operator of the X6 guides the helicopter by using a remote control and wearing video-goggles that show what the chopper sees through the camera. While Draganfly staff will pilot the helicopter at first, police officers will decide what to photograph. Engele said he expects trained police officers will pilot the choppers themselves after they take a course this spring and receive proper clearances.
It won’t fly higher than a light post and will only be used in fair weather conditions, he said.
The American military has grown to rely on similar unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to do aerial surveys and provide video to commanders on the ground.
The key in expanding the service’s use of the technology is going to be proving the images hold up in court, Engele said. The X6 was used previously by the Ontario Provincial Police to photograph a homicide scene in rural Ontario and could be used in tactical or surveillance operations, he said.
“You could use it for anything your brain can think of,” Engele said. “You can fly it inside an office and take a picture of the whole room to capture blood splatter.”
City residents can expect to see the mini-helicopter hovering above collision scenes around late-spring or summer, Engele said.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I think this is really going to be beneficial.”
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