Louisville, KY has proposed a plan to use fleets of drones to respond to gunshots.
The plan was submitted to the White House’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, which will explore sharing airspace jurisdiction between local and federal authorities.
How Would It Work?
Louisville authorities project that drones could arrive on the scene where shots have been fired up to a minute before 911 is even called, which would allow the drone to capture images of what is actually happening on the ground, possibly while more shooting is still happening.
In addition to potentially capturing images of crimes as they’re occurring, using drones this way could help identify false positives, such as a car backfiring, and save officers the time needed to respond and investigate.
Under the proposed plan, autonomous drones would respond immediately to locations where shootings are underway using data from Louisville’s ShotSpotter system.
ShotSpotter uses a series of microphone sensors places in certain locations throughout the city to identify the location of gunfire within seconds.
Louisville first started using the ShotSpotter system back in June of 2017. Police officers in the city can access ShotSpotter data from computers in located in their patrol cars, and from their smartphones. The data is also available to those working in dispatch for the city.
The ShotSpotter system is already helping law enforcement to respond more quickly to shootings in parts of the city. Authorities report that in the first six months of the system going online there were over 800 activations—that is, 800 gunshots or sounds perceived as gunshots—and this was only in the six square miles where the microphones were put in place for the system.
Using drones would allow Louisville authorities to further leverage the ShotSpotter system, with the ultimate goal of helping to reduce the homicide rate in the city.
Louisville is known as one of the most innovative cities in the country, so we said, ‘You know, what’s a little edgy out there, and how can we put together some new technologies to improve public safety?’
– Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville, KY
If approved, the pilot is likely to be limited at the beginning, according to city officials. Only a few places in town would initially have the proposed drone fleets, and geofencing would be established in those parts of town to limit where the drones could fly.
If the city of Louisville wanted to pursue this new drone program under existing laws, the chances of them being able to do so would be slim.
The FAA’s Part 107 rules prohibit flights beyond the visual line of sight (or BVLOS), over people, and at night, all of which would be types of flying needed for rolling out the use of drone fleets to respond quickly to gunshots.
Although all of these prohibitions could potentially be waived through the existing Part 107 waiver process, the chances that BVLOS and flights over people would be granted aren’t very high, based on the current ratio of those types of waivers being approved.
All of this, of course, is why Louisville has applied to the UAS Integration Pilot Program.
It’s looking like the White House’s pilot program may help to fast track wider permissions for types of flying currently prohibited under the Part 107 rules, such as BVLOS and night flights. Recently, the state of North Carolina submitted a proposal for their own pilot program to provide aerial deliveries of blood and medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, which would require BVLOS flights.
The deadline for pilot program submissions already passed back in early January, but the accepted programs won’t be announced until May 7. It will certainly be interesting to see which pilot programs are accepted, and how they impact future legislation.