Police Drones: They Are Coming
As part of the recent Los Angeles Auto Show, organizers held the annual LA Design Challenge. In the past, it was more of a study in the future of style, but in recent years, it has become a think-tank for the future of motoring. That notion was best exemplified by this year's challenge: entrants were asked to predict what the future of highway patrol for California, specifically Los Angeles, in the year 2025. With the unrelenting growth of the City of Angels, it will soon be near impossible for the current highway patrol force to tend to the future sprawl of LA. With that in mind, almost every entrant in this year's design competition, including Honda, BMW and the winning Subaru team offered up solutions through automated police drones. Now, we're not talking about something out of Terminator, though it would be fitting given the setting of a dystopian future Los Angeles. No, we're talking automated road-going drones to help the existing police force, and here's what you need to know about unmanned law enforcement vehicles of the future:
How Soon? If you look at the proliferation of unmanned areal vehicles for military use, and police use of UAVs in the near future, and tie that to autonomous vehicle development, its not hard to see where things are going. Basically, as autonomous cars go, so does the promise of this automated patrol tech. Once self-driving cars are pushed through, the next step will be legislation to make smaller, unmanned road vehicles possible.
What Designs have been Offered Up? While Chevrolet and Mercedes-Benz entered designs for future manned vehicles, the real futurist approach came from BMW, Honda and Subaru. BMW's idea called for a manned vehicle that would have the capability to launch two ULVs (unmanned land vehicle) and a UAV (unmanned arial vehicle). This would allow the drones to engage in pursuit of a vehicle long after it has become unsafe for the manned vehicle to continue.
Honda offered two designs this year, one manned and one unmanned. The idea would be that an unmanned vehicle would split off from the manned portioned.
Subaru brought forth a design that was a standalone unmanned vehicle that would patrol the highway and report back to central command. This would allow the highway patrol to be far more efficient with its resources, and be in more places at once.
But won't that put cops out of work? Not really. This drone tech is meant to bolster the existing police force, which will be helplessly over-extended by the year 2025. Especially when you consider California's financial woe's, there is no way they turn it around and are able to fund a large enough police force to handle a city like LA more than a decade in the future.
These vehicles can be a huge benefit for that existing force too. It seems a little wasteful for seven cruisers to head on after a single car in a police chase. Far more efficient it would be for the highway patrol to lock onto the car and track it with several drones, while the manned police vehicles can strategize on how best to apprehend the suspect in a way that is safe for all parties- including bystanders.
The Bottom Line: Since the the advent of UAVs in military theater, state and local municipalities have all been submitting applications for domestic use in a law enforcement role. Once automated vehicles are part of our daily life (and you better bet that's coming), the unmanned law enforcement vehicles will be here. They will be hardwired into an ever-more-connected national infrastructure, and will eventually be linked to our vehicle's black boxes. The point is, you better soak up this time of vehicular lawlessness while we still have it.