Incidents involving the use of drones in nuisance or criminal cases grew twelve-fold in the UK over the past two years, an investigation has found
Incidents involving drones that have been reported to UK police have soared more than twelve-fold in the past two years, according to an investigation, even as organisations continue to push forward with using the devices commercially.
Figures obtained from police departments around the UK found that disturbances including near-misses with airplanes and drones suspected as being used in burglaries rose to nearly 10 a day (3,456) last year, up from 283 in 2014.
The total was three times that of the 1,237 incidents reported in 2015, according to the results of freedom-of-information requests by the Press Association. The real figure is likely to be significantly higher, since the information wasn’t available from some forces.
Sussex Police reported the highest number of drone-related incidents last year, at 240, followed by the Greater Manchester force with 225.
Most areas recorded year-on-year rises and in some areas the totals grew from a handful to three figures.
The findings reflect the rapid growth in use of drones, which can be bought for as little as £30 and often include built-in cameras.
Alongside the spike in sales, authorities have struggled to keep the gadgets’ usage under control, with the Department of Transport currently reviewing the results of a recent consultation on the subject.
Possibilities raised in that consultation include the introduction of a criminal offence for drone misuse, mandatory registration of new devices and stronger penalties for flying in zones such as airports and prisons.
Civil Aviation Authority regulations already require drones to be kept within the operator’s line of sight and flown no higher than 120 metres. Drones with cameras can’t be flown within 50 metres of buildings, vehicles, people or over large crowds.
Airplane pilots have reported 59 drone near-misses in the past 12 months, up from six in 2014, with a plane passing within 20 metres of a drone on the approach to Heathrow in February.
The Press Association’s investigation found drones were reportedly being used in nuisance cases, with individuals saying neighbors were using them to observe them in their houses or gardens.
Burglars were reported to be using the devices, with in one case a burglary reported after a drone was seen hovering over houses.
Incidents involving prison smuggling also came to light in the probe. Last year 27-year-old Daniel Kelly became the first person to be jailed for flying contraband including tobacco and the synthetic psychoactive drug Spice into jails in Kent and Hertfordshire.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said the growing use of drones needed to be matched by appropriate oversight.
“We have to balance the growth of this technology by ensuring that the public are aware of the strong regulatory framework and detailed user guidance that is available relating to drone use,” said Asst Ch Con Steve Barry, the council’s lead for drones, in a statement.
Swiss Post trials
Public- and private-sector organisations continue to press ahead with integrating drones into logistical processes, with the Swiss postal service the latest to disclose ongoing drone trials.
The Swiss Post said on Friday it has been trialling the use of autonomous drones to transport laboratory samples between two hospitals in Lugano, in the southern canton of Tessin on the border with Italy, since mid-March.
The 31-inch drones, supplied by Californian firm Matternet, operate without a human pilot or oversight, although Matternet monitors the flights remotely. They can carry up to about four pounds and fly at a speed of 22 miles per hour.
They take off and land from launch pads outside the hospitals, with hospital staff loading and unloading them and activating them with a smartphone app.
The Swiss aviation authority, OFAC, approved the trials and 70 flights have been carried out in the past two weeks, Swiss Post said.
The service plans to turn the trial into a regular daily service between the two hospitals beginning next year. At present samples are generally transported by taxi.
The trials place Switzerland at the forefront of logistical drone usage.
Countries such as the US currently place tight restrictions on organisations’ use of drones, with only a handful of exemptions granted so far.
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