Advanced Security Group plans to deploy semi-autonomous drones before year's end
A future where drones streak through the skies over New Zealand cities to respond to security breaches at businesses and even homes may not be far away.
Auckland company Advanced Security Group plans to start using drones later this year on some commercial security contracts.
In these situations the drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as the industry terms them to distinguish them from military drones – would operate semi-autonomously, but there would always be a "man in the loop" to deploy and recall them.
The system has been created by E-Guard, the technology innovation arm of ASG, which is a New Zealand-owned security "integrator"; a term which refers to a company that brings together a mix of technologies and tools to provide tailored security packages for commercial clients.
Picture the scene: It's night, and someone has entered a large commercial site being protected by ASG drones. An alarm is triggered, and the drone deployed, lifting off from a "court" to which it will automatically return afterwards to recharge.
The man-in-the-loop has control of the drone's camera, which includes an infrared setting, and a spotlight, which he also controls.
If an intruder was spotted, the camera could switch on a spotlight to illuminate their position and record the scene.
The security guard who deployed the drone could set off an alarm on the drone too, and even talk to the intruder using a two-way communications system on the now hovering drone.
In many cases, that would be enough to deter an intruder from carrying out any further crimes, E-Guard business manager Andy Grant believed.
Should an intruder shoot a drone with a shotgun, images of the action could be used to prosecute, Grant said.
Grant said such UAVs could protect properties up to 10 kilometres away from their base.
It was possible to imagine situations where there was a UAV "court" covering a number of adjoining commercial premises, he said. They could also be used by security companies monitoring domestic alarms, he said.
Drones could get to an alarm site quickly, save having to send a guard and make it easier to respond in areas which were remote or in difficult terrain.
Safety and privacy concerns might have to be addressed.
But Grant said that in a city like Auckland people already had their images captured many times a day.
ASG operates the security cameras at Eden Park, Grant said.
"As soon as a camera sweeps over a residential house, it pixelates out, which has been put in as a privacy feature. They are only collecting the images for the purposes the cameras were installed for."
Grant said Statistics NZ figures showed an extremely low chance of drones malfunctioning and falling onto anyone.
New rules for operating drones have been developed by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Auckland Council is consideringby-laws to regulate their use, for example, giving members of the public the ability to protest drone use over council-owned parks.
Grant said the rules left room for commercial UAV operators to apply for Civil Aviation Authority approval to operate services.
The date for the launch of the country's first security drone is not finalised, but Grant said: "We have a number of customers interested".