Police Scotland Will Use Drones to Find Missing People
Thu, October 21, 2021

Police Scotland Will Use Drones to Find Missing People

Police Scotland's drone is equipped with a camera and thermal imaging sensor / Photo Credit: cornfield (via Shutterstock)


Police Scotland unveiled its new aerial drone system to look for missing and vulnerable individuals, according to Ken Macdonald of British news channel BBC. The remotely-piloted aircraft system (RPAS) is equipped with advanced cameras and neural computer networks to spot a person from “a speck” of up to 150 meters. The system’s recognition software is “compact enough” to be run on a mobile phone, with the technology learning as it flies. 

Police Scotland’s air support unit Inspector Nicholas Whyte said that the drone has “very special sensors.” Aside from its highly-powered optical camera, the drone also has a thermal imaging sensor, which detects heat. “We're there to find people. People who need our help or people who are lost,” he added. The system is a collaboration between Police Scotland, the technology multinational Thales, and the University of the West of Scotland (UWS). The partnership’s “matchmaker” is CENSIS, one of Scotland’s eight not-for-profit innovation centers. 

Police Scotland’s drone gathers data in real-time. Its software is capable of discerning a person, an animal, or a vehicle “from just a handful of pixels.” Dean of the School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS Professor Carl Schaschke explained, “It does that by being shown images, multiple images, time and time again until it recognizes what the objects are from pretty much any orientation.”

The team taught the drone using “hundreds of hours of footage of police officers” in different situations, clothing, and positions. Prof. Schaschke said it doesn’t need sophisticated supercomputing. Two police officers will help conduct the search operation. One officer will operate the drone, while the other will use the recognition software. The technology has been designed to ease the cognitive burden on users, Prof. Schaschke added. 

It’s understandable to raise questions on privacy and civil liberties with regard to using drones. Inspector Whyte adamantly reassures the public that the drone is not a spy drone. In fact, Police Scotland will be open about how its officers will deploy the drones. He asserted, “We're not hiding anything. It's there to help people, it's there to find people.”