UK company bids to protect women from street assaults with drones

UK drone assault

A UK company that had been specializing in counter-drone systems is now proposing to deploy UAVs to protect women from street assaults, using an emergency app leading craft to where calls for help were made, according to British media reports.

Up until now, the Drone Defence company had focused on systems to detect invasive UAVs, or prevent them from entering client airspace using a variety of geo-fencing approaches. But according to The Telegraph, its founder Richard Gill is now submitting plans to the UK government to deploy drones around the country that may be summoned by women who become fearful of potential assaults in outside areas. Once the linked app has been used to send an alert to the nearest command post, an AeroGuard UAV would be remotely flown to the site, where it would shine a spotlight to scare assailants off, or use sensors to record as much evidence of a crime being committed until police could.

According to a Drone Defence promotional video explaining its motives, polls indicate half of all UK women – and one of seven men – say they feel unsafe when walking alone on lonely streets at night, even near their own homes. Those concerns were stoked further by the March street abduction and eventual murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in London by an attacker who turned out to be a cop. 

In addition to addressing those fears, Gill’s pivot from counter-drone efforts to the mass deployment of security UAVs also comes at a time when UK police have very successfully adopted the use of the craft for a wide range of activities, including locating missing persons to catching fleeing robbers.

His proposal calls for having AeroGuard drones at the ready at police stations or other command centers throughout the country to be activated by the alert app when people feel in danger of assault. Gill estimates the craft could reach those callers in an average four-minute flight time – much faster than the 20 minutes it takes to scramble helicopters.

Despite each AeroGuard drone’s $47,350 price tag – and the hundreds, if not thousands of those vehicles that would be required to cover big UK cities – Gill offers some solid arguments on why his project could wind up being cost-effective in the long run. 

In addition to each police chopper running $5.4 million to purchase, those cost $4,330 per hour to fly, versus $135 for the UAV. The latter also requires no crew besides the remote operator in the control center, and would be merely expanding the security- and order-enhancement roles that police across the nation are already using drones for.

“London on average has a police helicopter above it for eight hours a day,” Gill told The Telegraph. “For the same price as they currently pay for the helicopter, you could have 25 drones offering 250 flying hours per day. This would need five base locations across the city.”

Awaiting reaction from government officials about the proposal, Gill and his Drone Defence company are planning to mount a pilot operation of the system at Nottingham University, using a prototype Aeroguard at a cost of around $676,400. Though the UK’s aerial anti-assault idea sounds both expensive and likely to require a very large deployment of drones, it would be very much worth the cost and effort if it could prevent even a fraction of the life-destroying assaults that have become so common in modern societies.

“It will take about a year to put together as a proof of concept that drones can provide support for people at a fraction of the cost, and in minutes rather than tens of minutes,” Gill says.

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