Drones for surveillance is a growing market that allows companies to monitor their property or asset, allows law enforcement/emergency services new ways to track a target and survey an area of interest and even gives homeowners a new way to protect their property. Their popularity is rapidly increasing as drones get more technologically advanced and easier to use.
Drones are being widely used for a number of industrial applications, their technology allows them to perform a wide variety of tasks, usually much faster and safer than traditional means. Drones can be used for photogrammetry, search and rescue, delivery and professional photography.
In the area of surveillance and security, drones are helping to provide enhanced surveillance capabilities with their advanced remote sensing features and autonomous flight modes.
In this article, we shall see the benefits of drones for surveillance, how they are being used and list some of the best drones for surveillance and security purposes.
How Are Drones Used For Surveillance?
Drones are being utilised for surveillance and security purposes by many law enforcement agencies, emergency services and private companies.
For law enforcement agencies like the Police, drones can be used to survey an area of high criminal activity, follow a suspect discreetly and can even be used to monitor borders to reduce illegal crossing.
Emergency services can use them to survey a disaster area and provide continuous accurate data to first responders regarding the state of the area and where the most help is needed.
Private companies will be able to add an extra layer of security to protect their assets through the use of autonomous drone operations.
The Benefits Of Drones For Surveillance
There are many benefits that drones will provide for surveillance and security operations, one of the main ones is because they are unmanned and very portable, they are easy to deploy and become operational within minutes of a call-up.
Whether it’s the police hunting down suspects or a disaster management team surveying an area after a natural or man-made disaster, drones can be deployed very quickly to help provide assistance in many areas of public safety.
Drones provide a faster, cheaper and safer alternative to manned air surveillance, for example, if a law enforcement agency wanted to track a subject of interest from the air, it would take some time before a helicopter is deployed.
Not all law enforcement agencies will have access to a helicopter because they are expensive and have high operational costs.
However, with drones, the costs are substantially reduced, from purchasing the initial equipment to overall running costs.
They are also much safer as no one is in any immediate danger and it doesn’t take long to learn how to operate a drone thanks to advancements in flight technology.
Another advantage of using drones for surveillance is because they are much smaller than helicopters and other manned aircraft, this allows them to manoeuvre into hard to reach areas.
This will be very useful for law enforcement agencies when they are chasing suspects in narrow areas. It will reduce the chances of suspects hiding in blind spots and escaping via narrow corridors.
Many commercial grade drones come with multiple payload capabilities, this provides another huge benefit for surveillance purposes, as drone operators will be able to attach different types of sensors and other accessories that will provide certain advantages in different environmental conditions.
For example, drones can be fitted with night vision sensors, thermal imaging cameras and powerful searchlights that will be useful in night-time operations or where visibility is limited.
Best Drones For Surveillance
When I started researching this topic, I was surprised by the sheer number of drones that have been developed for surveillance and security.
I have not included any prosumer drones on this list, although they are capable of surveillance operations, they are limited by their design, flight time and payload capacity.
For drones to be suitable for surveillance and security applications, they will need to have the following characteristics:
Robust design – Drones for surveillance should be built to withstand the toughest of environments, whether it’s flying in the freezing cold, windy conditions or wet weather, drones should have no problems being operated in these conditions.
Long flight time – The very nature of their operations will require these drones to have long flight times. Many drones also should have the capability to quickly recharge their batteries via a remote mobile station. A few of the drones on this list can be tethered to a mobile ground station via a cable that powers the drone. These cables reach up to a few hundred feet and provide the drones with enough power to stay up for a few hours.
Different payload capacity – Surveillance and security drones will be operating in different weather conditions, and this will require them to be compatible with different types of sensors and tools like speakers and searchlights.
Secure data – As privacy is a big concern for many, the data between drones and mission control have to be encrypted to the highest standards.
Long-range – For surveillance and security purposes, drones should have a long transmission range and most of the drones on this list have a range of at least 5km
The following are some of the companies that have developed the best drones for surveillance and security purposes.
Easy Aerial provide aerial surveillance solutions for a wide range of industries, they have their own range of drones and have developed a few all-in-one solutions for drone aerial surveillance.
Currently, they have 5 drones in their catalogue and offer an all-in-one drone surveillance solution via their Smart Aerial Monitoring System (SAMS).
This system allows for automatic drone deployment via one of their Easy Guard ground stations and monitored via their proprietary software suite.
Their SAMS drone surveillance solution includes one of their drones, a military-grade ground station that has an automated roof opening/closing system as well as four cameras and multiple sensors for situational awareness.
All their drones can be operated in any type of weather condition and can be attached with different types of sensors. They all come with 45+ minutes of flight time and a few of them can be tethered to Easy Guard ground station for prolonged flight capability.
Their 5 drones are the following:
- Raptor – A hybrid drone that usually stays tethered to a ground station but can also be untethered and fly for 45 minutes. It weighs 5.5kg and has a payload capacity of 3kg, a control distance of 20km and has a top speed of 100km/h.
- Osprey – This is a 6 rotor drone that is highly durable and can be flown in all weather conditions. It has a flight time of 55 minutes, weighs 5.5kg and has a maximum payload capacity of 3kg.
- Alpine Swift – This is a tethered drone that has a robust all-weather design and can be attached with different sensors. It’s a light drone that weighs 2.6kg and has a payload capacity of 2.5kg.
- Albatross Falcon – An advanced tethered drone that has a payload capacity of 3.8kg and can be flown in any type of weather condition.
DJI are the most popular and the largest drone company in the world, although they are more known for their high-quality drones for photography and filming, they also manufacture some of the best commercial drones in the world.
Their Matrice range of drones are suitable for surveillance and come equipped with a lot of advanced features.
The Matrice 300 RTK is their most advanced Matrice drone, it’s a quadcopter with a powerful all-weather build and comes with an IP45 rating. Using the latest in drone technology, the Matrice 300 RTK comes with a maximum flight time of 55 minutes, has a dual control system, omnidirectional obstacle sensing and avoidance capability and has multiple redundancy systems for increased flight reliability.
The drone can be attached with multiple payloads and uses enhanced WiFi for a maximum transmission range of 15km.
There are a few other drones in the Matrice range, they are the Matrice 200, 210 and 210 RTK. These are not as advanced as the 300 RTK but can still be used for surveillance purposes. They all have an IP43 rating, can be attached with different types of payloads and have a flight time ranging between 25-38 minutes.
A special mention must go to the DJI Mavic 2 Advanced Enterprise drone, it comes with a dual-camera that consists of a high-resolution RGB camera and thermal imaging sensor. The drone has advanced flight features and can be attached with accessories like a small speaker, searchlights and an anti-collision beacon. However, it’s not an all-weather drone and cannot be flown in rainy conditions.
Percepto uses AI and advanced robotics to automate the process of inspecting, monitoring and securing high-value sites around the world.
Their drone-in-a-box solution comes ready to be deployed anywhere in the world with minimal training required. The drone is built to be operated under the toughest of weather conditions and is fully autonomous. Missions can be planned in advance and the drone will become fully operational by a set of defined triggers. It has a flight time of around 38 minutes, a control range of 5km and comes equipped with a high-resolution RGB camera and a thermal imaging sensor.
Skeyetech from Azur Drones is a fully autonomous drone-in-a-box solution for surveillance and security functions. The drone can be fully operational in 30 seconds and requires no manual control. Missions can be pre-planned to fly on a specific day and time or it can be automatically operational via an alert system. The drone is built from robust components, making it durable in tough weather conditions and comes with dual cameras that consist of an RGB and thermal imaging sensor with multiple optical zoom capabilities. The drone has multiple redundancy systems in place for safer and more reliable operations and requires minimal training from personnel to operate safely.
A relatively new company, Fixar have developed 2 drones for industrial applications. Their flagship drone is the Fixar 007, a fixed-wing drone that has vertical lift-off and landing capability and comes with an IP54 rating. It can be operated in harsh weather conditions and has a flight time of 60 minutes and a control range of 60km. It has a payload capacity of 2kg and is compatible with many types of cameras.
Acecore Technologies originally set out to develop and manufacture drones for videography but have since expanded into other areas of application that includes surveillance and security. Currently, they have 4 drones in their catalogue, 2 of these are suitable for industrial applications.
The Acecore Noa drone is built from carbon fibre, has multiple redundant autopilot features, has a maximum payload capacity of20kg and flight time of 60 meters with a control range of 16km.
Their other drone that is suitable for surveillance and security applications is called the Zoe X4. It’s an all-weather drone that has 40+ minutes of flight time, a payload capacity of 5kg and has a transmission range of 16km. The drone can also be tethered to an Elistair ground station for continuous operation.
UKR Spec Systems
This is a Ukrainian based company that develops and manufactures both fixed-wing and multi-copter drones. Initially many of their drones were built to support the military, they now drone solutions for many industrial applications including surveillance and security. Their most advanced drone is the PD-UAS which is a fixed-wing drone that has high endurance, has a payload capacity of 19kg, 150km range and a top speed of 100km/h. Their most advanced multi-copter drone is the PC-8 which comes equipped with 8 rotors, is highly durable and can be flown in any type of environment and has 55 minutes of flight time.
Elistair specialise in tethered drone applications, they have three main products, the Orion UAS tethered drone and two different ground stations. Their Orion drone has an IP54 rating and has a payload capacity of 2kg. It’s a robust drone that can be automatically deployed to provide continuous surveillance for 24 hours from a height of 100 meters. It’s equipped with military-grade remote sensing systems and comes with multiple failsafe measures.
Based in Switzerland, Swiss Drones have developed and manufactured a highly durable unmanned helicopter. This UAV has been specifically engineered to operate in harsh environments and comes with some impressive features. It can operate for over 3 hours and has a payload capacity of 45kg (including fuel) and can be attached with multiple sensors. It has a long transmission range and can be used for BVLOS missions.
This is just a small selection of drone companies that have developed drone solutions for surveillance and security applications. Other companies that provide drone surveillance solutions include the following
LEMUR S drones
Aerial Response Solutions
C-Astral Aerospace LTD
As we have outlined in this article, drone use for surveillance is growing as it provides many distinct benefits that traditional air surveillance methods cannot provide. They are cheaper, faster and easily deployable which makes them a great tool for many emergency situations. However, there are issues of concern, especially regarding how sensitive data is handled and whether surveillance drones will protect people’s privacy. This article from EFF provides more details about surveillance drones and the need for more transparency with regard to drone surveillance and people’s privacy.