For decades, police have used aviation to track traffic and perform surveillance over large territories. While most aerial units operate helicopters, some police forces also use airplanes, allowing for higher and quieter surveillance and making it less likely that suspects will become aware they are being watched. A light aircraft also allows for longer flying time and lower running costs.
Recently new technologies have come into use. Wide area surveillance is a term for surveillance that continuously covers a very large area, often several square kilometres. It has become a growing priority over the last decade, with the increase in terrorism and the effects of large-scale natural disasters. The ability to monitor an environment and respond quickly, as necessary, means that a wide area surveillance system can be the first element of prevention and defence that saves lives and preserves critical information.
From their roots in spying and stealth military attacks, unmanned planes are spreading into the civilian sphere. In United States, the technologies that were developed to find explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan have found civilian use and lend themselves to domestic border patrol, drug interdiction, and disaster management. Sensors on manned and unmanned aircraft today collect wide-area video imagery for near-real-time and forensic (after-the-fact) analyses. However such technologies are very expensive.
Civilian drones could soon be put to work in tasks as diverse as inspecting oil pipelines, catching rhino poachers and even flying travellers. The drones come in two basic shapes, those that look like cockpit-less airplanes and those that have helicopter-like rotor blades allowing them to hover and take off and land in restricted spaces.
One drone that is becoming increasingly popular with the public is the relatively low cost Parrot (pictured to the right). Operated from a smartphone or a tablet, the parrot can mount a HD camera with live streaming to the steering device.
A recent new innovation originating from Croatia is the Hypersphere system for persistent continuous surveillance. It represents a disruptive innovation for two fast growing industries, unmanned aerial vehicles and remote sensing.
With per-flight-hour expenses ten to fifteen times lower than other unmanned systems in the same class, the Hypersphere enables a considerable cost reduction in the use of the unmanned aerial systems, as well as a significant market application expansion.
The Hypersphere can stay in the air for up to 100 hours of continuous flight and it supports a wide variety of continuous surveillance missions. See a video about the Hypersphere below.