Civilian drones prepare for takeoff in NW with sheriffs

TACOMA, Wash. – Get ready to spot a new kind of “bird” in the sky. Within the next month, the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to green light the use of small unmanned aircraft by emergency services. Some sheriffs’ departments in the Northwest are showing interest in these aircraft.

What we’re talking about here are scaled up hobby airplanes and helicopters or scaled down military drones. A booth rented by unmanned aircraft systems company Prioria Robotics drew a crowd this week at an emergency management conference in Tacoma.

“We want all the fire departments and the sheriff’s departments to know that this is out here and available,” says Prioria sales and marketing executive David Wright. “Because a lot of them don’t know. This is new. This is outside the box.”

Wright says his small battery-powered airplane can transmit high-definition video or infrared images to a ground controller. He’s says the drones are much, much cheaper to acquire and operate than traditional aircraft.

The Clackamas County, Oregon Sheriff’s Office could be among the first adopters in the region. A sheriff’s spokesman sees potential use in search-and-rescue. But he adds his agency has no interest in using drones for routine aerial surveillance.