The Role of Radar in DFR Programs

The role of Radar for DFR

Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs are growing in popularity and efficacy across the nation. The case for DFR programs continues to gain momentum as select programs gather data, improve programs, and demonstrate real value to the departments and communities they serve. The preeminent DFR program began under the umbrella of “Smart Cities Initiatives.” Operated by the Chula Vista Police Department in Chula Vista, California, their DFR pilots have been flying since 2017. In that time, they have revolutionized initial call response.

    • Chula Vista has flown more than 1000 missions, assisting on more than 120 arrests (many of which would not have occurred without the drone); clearing more than 200 calls for service without the need to send uniformed officers; and arriving on scene consistently before ground units, averaging a response time of approximately two minutes.

The impact and influence of Chula Vista’s breakthrough efforts have inspired more than 10 departments in the U.S. to launch DFR programs including notable programs at Brookhaven, GA, Pearland, TX, and Forsyth CSO, NC.


Basic Role and Requirements of DFR Programs

Drone as first responder programs provide relief to agencies in three specific ways by using technology to speed response time and fill staffing gaps:

    • Drones are sent to 911 calls locations for service instead of patrol units.
    • Drones are used as eyes-on-scene to help clear calls.
    • Drones act as eye-in-the-sky to assist ground units.

For all applications, operating drones has requirements that continue to challenge both starting and expanding DFR capacity:

1. Regulations: DFR programs operate under a Certificate of Authorization (COA) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and with Part 107 pilots.

a. Under Federal Aviation Administration Part 107.31, the remote pilot in command and visual observers or other persons manipulating the flight controls must be able  to see the drone throughout the entire flight. In absence of a BVLOS waiver, operation of a drone requires one visual observer during the day, and two at night. The observer(s) must have eyes-on the drone at all times. Programs may also seek a “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) waiver to extend their operating area. BVLOS waivers require a systems approach for remote pilots with reliable access to high-fidelity airspace situational awareness data. Organizations exist, such as Skyfire Consulting, Brinc and others that assist public agencies in lifecycle planning for drone operations.

2. Resourcing: space and staffing

3. Funding: drones, sensors and software, launch/landing pad, operations center hardware


Good Reasons for BVLOS Requirements

The United States has the busiest airspace in the world. And we are fortunate to have one of the safest thanks to the diligence of pilots, air traffic controllers, staff, and oversight agencies that prioritize safety. This complex network of air traffic includes drones used in public safety DFR programs.

For DFR drones to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements for safety, public safety agencies must employ human spotters for tracking drone flights. In a city surrounded by sight-line obscurement, this can be a challenge. Even with a limited BVLOS waiver in place, an officer is required to be assigned to view airspace and assist with airspace deconfliction.

Given the need for BVLOS and strain on departments to provide human spotters, inserting dependable technology to fill the gap is a reasonable, and needed, solution. These solutions include using technology to aid in airspace deconfliction and engaging drone as a service (DaaS) providers.


DaaS as an Alternative to Native DFR

While localized DFR programs are preferred, departments now have alternatives that reduce internal oversight complexity. Drones as a service are now being deployed for DFR operations. This approach engages a single provider to supply the drones, safety equipment, pilots, and associated COAs and waivers required for safe flight.

Radar’s Role in BVLOS

There has been feedback that the FAA looks favorably on programs using radar to help the drone pilot deconflict airspace to reduce collision risk. Further, the FAA may be more likely to grant a BVLOS waiver when proven sensor technology is in place. Several companies that assist DFR programs achieve BVLOS using a suite of sensors, choose to include high-performance, compact airspace awareness radar to aid in airspace deconfliction and flight safety.

As law enforcement leans into drone technology as an aid for assessing scenes and prioritizing response, airspace awareness becomes critical. DFR pilots need to know what’s flying before they execute their own missions. And whether using a localized program or engaging drones as a service, sensors including compact airspace awareness radar play a critical role in flight safety.

Radar for Drone as First Responder

Echodyne Radar for DFR

Echodyne’s proprietary metamaterials electronically scanned array (MESA®) is a rare breakthrough in advanced radar engineering. Leveraging a novel physics-design approach, Echodyne combines solid-state, low-SWaP designs with advanced software capabilities to deliver superior performance and data integrity, radically improving system performance and enhancing safety.

For more information on how Echodyne radar can help boost efficiency of your DFR program, connect with a specialist today.

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