Crime-fighting drones for the City of Cape Town

Criminals in the City of Cape Town beware – security drones could soon track you from above, even in the cover of night.

Following a recent report by Carte Blanche on the testing of surveillance drones (also known as RPA – remotely piloted aircraft) during police raids in Cape Town, MyBroadband spoke to the city and the company behind the aerial units about the future of remote surveillance in the sky.

Cape Town tested the drones recently while police carried out a drug bust in the Cape Flats. When arriving at the suspect’s house, a drone with an infrared camera was launched nearby and watched from above.

If any suspects fled, hid, or threw weapons or drugs away, the drone captured it all.

The RPA featured is a product of Dronetec, which was contracted by the city for the test.

“There has been an increase in the demand for drones in the law enforcement and security industry as the use of a helicopter is often not an option due to unavailability or impracticality,” said Dronetec.

“The drone gives similar aerial support as a helicopter without the hassle of all the paperwork and expense of a pilot and fuel.”

The RPA chosen was the Dronetec W.A.S.P. Mk4 equipped with a close ground support package.

It has a “x8 design” with four arms and eight motors, operates at an altitude of 50m – 150m in police operations, has a 2km range (weather dependent), and can stay in the air for up to 30 mins.

“Top speeds of over 100km/h have been recorded, but in normal flight the speed is roughly between 40-60 km/h depending on flight conditions.”

Dronetec W.A.S.P. Mk4
Dronetec W.A.S.P. Mk4

City of Cape Town test

In the test run during the police bust, the RPA tracked suspects from above using its thermal imaging. The drone was also equipped with a Sony TV camera and an LED spotlight on a gyroscope.

Mayoral Committee Member Safety and Security for the City of Cape Town JP Smith said the test was a success, and the use of drones is effective in a multitude of situations – not only in police raids.

“Checking fire breaks, to disaster response coordination, to traffic management, to gang and drug operations – the drones are useful in that they create a huge tactical advantage where the operational commander can see what is happening at the target property and instruct his officers accordingly,” said Smith.

“We saw drug dealers fleeing down passages and into homes, we saw where one tossed his package of heroin and we saw a gangster crawl across a roof and drop into a neighbouring property. We were able to arrest him, much to his surprise, when he emerged a few houses down.”

Dronetec W.A.S.P. Mk4
Dronetec W.A.S.P. Mk4

Smith said Cape Town also plans to use a fixed-wing push prop drone for anti-metal theft operations in Philippi. The drone stays airborne for three hours, checking the contents of scrap yards before a raid. It can also be used to check disaster scenes during and after an emergency, check land invasions, and monitor informal structure creep.

“Drones are a cost-effective way to do remote controlled camera surveillance and photography rather than owning or hiring helicopters. They have their limitations in terms of weather, so there will always be environments in which you need an aircraft, but drones can do a lot of good,” said Smith.

“When linked to other technologies, like Shotspotter (gunfire detection technology) and license plate recognition cameras, they can become extremely effective.”

The video below details how the Dronetec unit and its thermal imaging works.

Drone use difficult in SA

The widespread use of drones is difficult in South Africa, though, due to strict Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations in place while policy on the matter is drafted.

Obtaining a licence to operate a drone for specific operations is time-consuming and expensive, according to the Carte Blanche report. The CAA states that the use of all drones is currently illegal in the country.

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Crime-fighting drones for the City of Cape Town