The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will soon be taking new applications for its unmanned aircraft assessment program — a project that gives potential government customers at local, state, and federal levels an impartial evaluation of the strengths and costs of different systems.
Overseen by the DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate, the Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety (RAPS) program is meant to provide a sort of “Consumer Reports” for small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) said Kirk Kloeppel, the RAPS program manager and test lead at DHS contractor Modern Technology Solutions, Inc.
“There’re a lot of companies that you are going to see here this week interested in selling a municipality a small, unmanned system,” Kloeppel told the audience at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference (AUVSI 2013) in Washington this week (August 13, 2013). “What DHS is interested in doing is being able to filter through some of that and be an honest broker . . . and let you understand what does work and what does not.”
Being able to choose wisely can help prospective customers among the roughly 30,000 fire departments and 18,000 police departments in the United States. Some of these departments, he said, have aircraft that cost as much as $3 million to buy and $400 to $500 an hour to fly. Small, unmanned systems can be purchased for $30,000 to $100,000 a piece and may cost only $25 to $50 an hour to operate.
“For the average cost of a police cruiser the community may be able to have an unmanned system to help them with their police or fire situations,” Kloeppel said. RAPS looks at suitability, reliability, and overall cost to procure and maintain a system.
The first round of assessments accepted craft weighing 25 pounds or less that would fly at altitudes of 400 feet or lower. The platform must also have at least 1,000 hours of flight time on it, Kloeppel said. “We didn’t want something that was in development coming into the test program until it was mature.”