ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – Weighing just over 10 pounds, a small remote controlled helicopter looks like a toy, but the Arlington Police Department has some serious plans for it. “We can use it to reconstruct a crime scene, reconstruct an accident scene; we can use it for search and rescue,” said Lt. Jim Lowery.
The Arlington police department had the unmanned aircraft on standby as part of Super Bowl security. Now, it wants to buy them, and the FAA has granted the city special permission to test them out.
In fact, Arlington is now one of only two cities to get the limited approval to evaluate the robotic helicopters. The other is Miami.
Equipped with high tech cameras and capable of infrared and night vision, it peers into places people can’t reach. Video provided by the manufacturer, LEPTRON Industrial Robotic Helicopters shows the aircraft being used in an exercise to check underneath a bridge for explosives.
Arlington argues it could also have used it to inspect the roof of the stadium before Super Bowl, map out the scene of a recent 50 car pile-up, or help find victims during natural disasters.
The price tag, according to LEPTRON, could land anywhere between $60,000 and $250,000.
Mayor Robert Cluck says the city is looking at a product in the $70,000 – $90,000. In his eyes, the potential for the technology would be well worth the cost. “If we have a device that could help us with public safety, you bet we’ll find the money for it.”
The surveillance technology, though, has its critics, who worry about the cost and the implications on personal privacy.
“(It) creates a lot of problems for homeowners, residents, business owners. What’s going to be the limit on what they can use the drone for, especially in the future?” asks Zack Maxwell, an outspoken critic, who attacked the plan during his run for city council.
Arlington police say they currently have no plans to use the aircraft for routine patrols, only very specific missions. For now, there is little they can do.
The FAA has placed strict limitations on Arlington’s use of the chopper, prohibiting it from flying anywhere near people, roads, or buildings.
The city, however, hopes the federal agency will lift some of those restrictions, if its tests show the aircraft is safe in civilian areas.