The Queensland Police Service is using at least two drones for law enforcement, running the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for "situational awareness" during sieges and other high-risk police operations. Although they've been used in trials since early 2012, the UAVs' continued use was detailed last week in a Federal Government committee on drones and privacy.
The UAVs are being used as part of QPS' regular operations, according to iTnews. The information came to light at the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs drone privacy roundtable held in Brisbane on Friday; Inspector Brad Wright, in charge of the unmanned vehicles program, said that the drones were primarily used to get a birds-eye view of situations during operations, but that the relatively low 400ft (~120m) operating ceiling imposed by CASA meant that they weren't suited to snooping or other covert activities.
The two drones currently in use by QPS are entirely different in their construction; one is a commercially-available CyberCopter, but the second is a custom-designed octocopter constructed by technicians within Queensland Police. The CyberCopter mimics a Bell 47 from the 1950s, while the octocopter likely looks like some kind of high-tech, deadly flying spider — commercially available variants start from around $4,000, but can cost well into five figures.
As well as the CASA flight ceiling for unmanned vehicles, there's one other factor that might limit expanded use of drones by government or businesses. At the moment, any UAV flown has to stay within the line of sight of its pilot, making it difficult for operators like the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service to use drones to explore smoky or collapsed buildings — QFRS Assistant Commissioner John Watson told the committee that that particular limitation "could be a problem", but that drone technology was quickly improving.