DHS Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety Project Puts Out Request for Information on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

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The research arm of the Department of Homeland Security is looking to evaluate small drones with sensors and other technology in an effort to “enhance border security without impeding commerce and travel.”

It recently put out an invitation for vendors of small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS) participate in a component of its Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety (RAPS) project. At this point, the request for information would bring vendors to a site where the team would evaluate systems in “simulated but realistic and relevant real-world operational scenarios, such as law enforcement operations, search and rescue, and fire and hazardous material spill response.” It would also evaluate safety of such technology, such as how the vehicle will fly if communication is lost with the controller.

The DHS is looking for SUAS to weigh less than 25 pounds and to have electro-optical, infrared, and, ideally, biological/chemical/radiological sensors, among other criteria involving range, endurance and speed.

What Evan Ackerman with IEEE Spectrum points out though is a concern over the lack of dialogue and transparency with the public. Here’s what Ackerman writes:

The sketchy part about all of this is that we’ll never get to hear about what’s going on, since “the information within each test report will be classified as For Official Use Only, and will not be shared with the general public.” I understand the need for security and stuff, but these drones are going to be operated domestically, and not by the military. And seriously, an integrated laser designator? On a domestic surveillance drone? For what, exactly?

The RFI states though that this is not necessarily coming to fruition. It is not a request for proposals, but more simply is for “informational and planning purposes.”

Ackerman writes though that he considers this “a rather shady precedent,” writing that public knowledge about what could “end up flying around over our homes” is important.

“[...] I also feel like we, as the public, should be told more about both what the drones are intended to do, and what they’re capable of doing, which often is not the same thing,” Ackerman continued writing that he would encourage debate on the topic before it becomes a reality.

TheBlaze has reported in the past public concern over the prevalence of drones being used and potential for more over U.S. soil. Government Security News recently reported that the Federal Aviation Administration has delayed a decision for drone testing sites. It is also still evaluating privacy protections and other technical aspects before opening up airspace to more UAVs by 2015.

A survey by the Associated Press recently found though that 44 percent of those questioned supported drone use by local law enforcement.

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