March 05, 2012, 4:00 PM — Pilotless remote-control aircraft have changed the way U.S. troops fight insurgents in territory that's rough, remote and difficult to traverse without crashing headlong into barriers as destructive as they are difficult to detect.
The military experience with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) has been so spectacular that police and emergency services in the U.S. have been eager to put a few of their own drones in the air.
Those who have been paying attention to drone testing programs in Texas might be a little less eager.
Unexpected costs, information leaks, mechanical failures and pilot errors have plagued tests conducted by a number of Texas state and local law enforcement agencies, beginning with the early 2009 test of a UAV that could peer through walls and ceilings using infrared, radar, visual-spectrum and other sensors.
The test was supposed to be secret; it ended up on YouTube after the story was broken by local TV news crews.
Another "secret" test – a demonstration the FAA conducted to show local cops what they were missing – was also busted by local TV crews, who got video of the not-too-encouraging results.
In January of last year the Washington Post broke the story of successful tests of a UAV called the Wasp that was used successfully during tests and a number of live SWAT operations, but set off public fears that the stealthy police drone would spend as much time spying on law-abiding citizens as scouting fugitive hideouts for SWAT.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) – the state police oversight and coordination agency – ended the tests in August because the tiny, relatively fragile UAVs spent far more time than they should on the ground being repaired after rough landings on Texas' rocky soil.
Vanguard Defense Industries