Experts speak on drone use during police standoff in SE Austin

Some video the Austin Police Department (APD) released from a standoff in Southeast Austin came from a police drone. 

An expert in drone technology explained how that type of aircraft is now taking a more active role in tense situations.

Video from the Sept. 23 standoff with Antonio Gonzales shows how APD's drone was deployed.

"It's cheap, it's easy, and it's quick," said Gene Robinson, an expert with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Robinson has launch several local drone programs. In 2015, he was involved in a demonstration with the Austin Fire Department's Red Team. The video from the Gonzales standoff is an example of how UAV's can be used by police.

"There is no question that it is getting harder and harder to build out our police forces in the current climate that the force multiplier is going to have to fall to technology, robotics. Both air and ground are going to be significant players," said Robinson.

Most drones, available now, have special sensors to avoid obstacles.

"These are capabilities that are emerging that lend themselves to flying in close to, say, a vehicle to look into a window to see if that gun that that individual is holding is either a plastic gun, a B.B. gun that has a red tip on it, which would indicate that it's, you know, a false gun, and they can move in, or it's a 45," said Robinson.

In the Gonzales case, a clear view of the gun in his waistband was provided. But sometimes the mere sight of a drone can make a difference like what happened in Hays County a while back.

"They just happened to position themselves over the individual. And here's where the psychological effect comes in. The individual looked at the drone, saw that he was not going to be able to escape it and walked out of the woods and said, well, when I saw the drone, I figured you all had me. So I just gave myself up," said Robinson.


Fixed wings are also being used. One was flying over another Austin stand-off earlier this year.

"With these, you get all the benefits of having a helicopter type aircraft along with the endurance of a fixed wing. So it's one of those things that, again, these are developments that are emerging that are going to benefit law enforcement down the road," said Robinson.

Fixed Wing Drones can fly up to three hours. Quad-copters, according to Robinson, may soon be modified to provide elements to help capture suspects.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, there have been several what they call kinetic solutions, whereby you could pursue an individual and essentially draw a net. You could drop several things to slow them down. Obviously, mounting a Taser on a drone is a very easy step. So, you know, we don't talk too much about the kinetic possibilities of using small drones, but there will be a day we will see that as well," said Robinson.

The Austin Fire Department's Red Team not only flies, it can also swim. AFD has a water rescue drone.

AFD is also aware of new technology being worked on to use drones to put out fires, and the agency is monitoring the development of that technology.