The US Secret Service plans to deploy a high-tech drone to guard Donald Trump when he makes an extended visit to his golf club in New Jersey in August.
The Department of Homeland Security announced that it would use the opportunity to test a sophisticated “spy-in-the-sky” flying device with 360-degree specialist reconnaissance and infrared camera technology to spot potential threats.
The drone, or small unmanned aircraft system, will be able to keep watch from an altitude of 300 to 400 feet, monitoring the sprawling course perimeter while the president makes the rounds of the greens and bunkers.
The Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster is one of Trump’s favorite weekend spots and he is expected to spend a longer period there later in August.
The Secret Service declined to answer questions about the drone’s specifics but said the test will help determine the potential for using several types of such vehicles in the future.
Most remotely-controlled drones on the consumer market can only fly for around 20 minutes before they have to be brought back to the ground for recharging.
But the DHS drone to be tested at the golf club will be tethered using a microfilament cable, which connects it to a power source.
Typically, such a cable is strengthened with Kevlar and not only powers the drone but carries a secure video feedback to the operator, who can be located on the spot or at a remote location.
“There is a growing interest in using drones for security generally and the technology has improved so much in recent years that you can throw these things up there pretty easily to provide quick and effective surveillance,” said Will Knight, a senior editor at the MIT Technology Review.
“This kind of thing makes sense on a golf course, where you cannot easily monitor from a high vantage point. There has been an increasing interest in these in security and military contexts for a while,” he added.
Knight said that some high-tech drones can automatically avoid obstacles such as trees and can be programmed to “lock on” in order to track a specific person on the ground.
It has not been disclosed which technology firm has been selected to provide the drones the government wants to test.
One specialist firm that produces them is CyPhy Works Inc, based in Danvers, Massachusetts, founded by Helen Greiner, the co-founder of iRobot and the brains behind devices ranging from the Roomba vacuuming robot to a remote bomb-detonator.
CyPhy provided the Massachusetts State Police with drones to monitor security at the Boston marathon this year – the first time such technology was used at the event, which was targeted in a terrorist bombing in 2013.
“Our tethered drone flew over the starting line at the Boston marathon this year to give the security team an additional view of the crowds that they had not had before,” said Kevin Phelan, a spokesman for CyPhy Works.
The drone hovers in one location while its cameras do the roving, zooming out to monitor a wide area.
“The tethered drones can keep flying for days. It’s pretty exciting,” he said.
The DHS said the drone it plans to test in New Jersey may be within range of private residences around the golf course, which could lead to unintentional privacy violations. It will notify people at the club that the premises are being monitored by a drone and any images or video recorded will be overwritten within 30 days if they do not become part of any law enforcement investigation.
The Secret Service currently relies on manned aircraft for aerial surveillance, but said they are limited in scope, too loud and cannot provide consistent coverage.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN