In my 2005 book Weapons Grade I predicted that police would soon be using micro air vehicles developed for the military. I didn’t realize it would happen quite so soon.
British police are now using the Microdrone from German company Microdrones GmbH in trials. According to The Times it was used to police a rock festival this summer, and there has also been interest from “MI5, the Metropolitan police, and Soca, the Serious Organised Crime Agency ”
As the video shows, its something of a contrast to the Honeywell craft we looked at earlier on in the week. It’s battery powered, so it’s quieter — apparently at 350 feet it is rarely noticed from the ground — but more limited in terms of performance (flight time is about twenty minutes compared to an hour). Although it might seem flimsy, the video shows how stable it is in flight. It is said to be quite rugged and can return to base even if it loses two of its four rotor blades. One unusual feature is a speaker so that police can give instructions to those on the ground.
The video style is also a contrast. It contains some footage shot from a Microdrone, which gives an impressive display of its powers. Zooming in on a sunbather in a bikini as a demonstration is not likely to allay fears about how intrusive this technology might be. And the ability to hover outside a window and peer in is one which is equally open to use and abuse.
Using these devices for military purposes is one thing, but when the police have them the discussion is completely different. Although in principle it won’t allow them to spy on anything that couldn’t already be seen from a helicopter, small and cheap MAVs are likely to be much more common. And, crucially, unlike a helicopter you will not be able to tell when one is watching you.