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Policing Aerial Cities Panel: How police are utilising drones in their operations

At Aerial Cities 2023, Eszter Kovacs, Co-Founder and CEO of DroneTalks moderated the user spotlight panel on ‘Policing Aerial Cities’, to find out more about how police forces are utilising drones in their operations. 

Eszter was joined by Joan Xiberta, Police Officer at the Mossos d’Esquadra and Thomas Neubauer, Vice President, CEO and co-founder of Dimetor, as they discussed the current challenges police forces face with drone operations, as well as what needs to be improved for wider adoption of drones in police forces across Europe and beyond. 

How the Mossos d'Esquadra police in Spain are utilising drones 

In 2021, the Mossos d'Esquadra started a unit of drones, consisting of 12 police officers. The majority of operations take place in Barcelona to survey the area of criminal activity, reporting to their control centre with images in real-time. 

The unit operates within three groups, all made up of one commander and three officers. commenting on the growth of the department, Joan explained: “Now there is no operation in Catalonia without drones. We are growing now and are going to multiply our numbers of persons and devices” 

Why upgrading the digital infrastructure in airspace is vital for police work with drones

Talking about his experience working with the German police force, Thomas highlights how drones are essentially tools that deliver data, and to ensure the productivity and effectiveness of this for the police force means strengthening the digital infrastructure in the airspace. 

Thomas explains that today, the digital infrastructure is built with cellular infrastructure for ground operations. However because of how high drones can fly, sometimes the infrastructure is there, but sometimes it fails. 

The interference, Thomas adds, is similar for aviation operators as it would be flying into a storm. 

“Whenever you are using drones, there’s some sort of emergency or crowd and they are using mobile phones which generate interference. You can mitigate that, you can fight it, but first of all, you need to know about it. And secondly, the aviation systems should also know about it because you’re also not flying into a weather front, you’re not flying into a storm, if you know about it. It’s the same principle.” 

Dimetor, with their software AirborneRF are working with the leading German telecom provider, Vodafone to deliver connectivity information to police centres. The connectivity information can not only be forecasted but also shows the life information about the network at any time in the air traffic management systems. 

With this knowledge on hand, the police can automatically dispatch drones to fly from A to B, rerouting if a more connected route is available, offering assurance that the drone will always arrive at its destination without losing connectivity and having to return home.

What challenges do police forces still face with their drone operations? 

Whilst incredible solutions are entering the market every day within the drone industry, the users who have not yet found their solution are still facing challenges within their drone operations. 

For Joan and his drone unit, a main challenge is the need to still travel to the area of the crime, sometimes driving for hours to then set up the drone and begin their operation. Joan explains as a police user “I know it exists, automation systems, but I don’t see it in my job.” 

Another challenge outlined in the larger city operations is the communication barriers. Joan outlines that in cities such as Barcelona with over 1.5 million citizens and tourists, where there are constant events of thousands of people, sending images to the control centre can either take too much time or not be possible. 

“When we send images to a control centre where we have our chiefs, directors and managers who decide what we have to do, what patrols we have to do, all those people are using the same tower of communications as me and sometimes we are not able to send the images.”

Is cellular availability and continuity high enough for reliable UAS tracking? 

An audience member asked Thomas whether cellular availability and continuity were high enough for reliable UAS tracking. Thomas explained that this is definitely possible, and in today's existing technologies, more of the environments are applicable. 

Thomas outlined two key aspects. First the question of redundancy, a fundamental in aviation, he added “for example, requests from the ANSPs and the CAAs about having redundant information about in which places we have more than one Telco connectivity. That solves one of the aspects concerning availability and integrity because if you are using your mobile phone and call 112, your phone will connect to the best Telcom provider, not the one where your SIM card is, so we expect similar capabilities also with safety-critical aspects.” 

Secondly, there is the question of places where you don't have cellular. This depends on the kinds of missions needed. In many cases with long-haul inspections or operations, a satellite fallback is an option.

“We have done hundreds of flight hours with authorities in the US, for example, to understand and characterise what a cellular infrastructure has to satisfy to be applicable for C2 link for identification and operation, also with broadband services up in the airspace.”

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