Remote Drone Operations (RDO): Taking Drones Beyond Live-Streaming in Public Safety

As drone hardware continues to rise in popularity, new commercial use cases continue to get discovered. As a result, drone software must stay ahead of customer needs and evolve to address more than live-streaming video footage back to a screen in the command center. 

With today’s developing technology, the capabilities of drones extend beyond streaming from one-to-one, or even one-to-many. Features like remote operations are now available and allow drone pilots to hand off drone control to a remote operator when aerial support or expert eyes are required to gain a clear view of the situation - otherwise known as Remote Drone Operations (RDO). 

In addition to gaining more popularity, many industries need the advanced features that RDO offers. Here is a prime use case in public safety that currently uses drone technology and how it's planning to extend the benefits:

Within the realm of public safety, think about a drone in every squad car. By allowing officers to launch a drone from anywhere, and effectively have a “virtual partner” on the scene, the drone can provide overwatch and relay real-time information back to responding officers and any other authorized members of the team. Combine this with Remote Drone Operation and every officer can now quickly, safely, and cost-efficiently call for “Drone Air Support” on nearly every call for service.  

For example, imagine an officer arrives at the scene of a breaking and entering. The officer quickly deploys and launches their drone. The drone climbs to a predefined height and begins to follow the officer as she begins to search the scene for suspects. This entire process takes less than 30 seconds. 

Meanwhile, back at watch command, an officer that is trained in Remote Operations (RO) is notified of a request for “aerial support” and that there’s a drone already in flight. The RO is able to view the live steam and is ready to take control of the drone if necessary as it follows the officer on its autonomous “follow me” mission. The RO is monitoring the real-time drone feed and sees a suspect flee out the back. The RO then takes immediate control of the drone and begins to track the fleeing suspect. He informs the officer on the scene and the rest of the responding officers. As the suspect is on the run, the RO manipulates the drone to maintain line of sight with the suspect until the officers can establish a perimeter and make an arrest. 

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Beyond police work, RDO has a place in protecting the general public and our environment. Take firefighting, for instance. Sometimes smoke from a fire is so thick, it’s impossible to fly a drone above it. Instead, the drone must fly lower to the ground, which requires the pilot to focus entirely on flying the drone, and not on scanning the scene. RDO solves for this challenge by allowing a remote operator to keep an eye on the drone’s camera and letting the pilot on the ground focus on flying the drone safely. 

In the event of a wildfire, drones are critical in helping fire trucks navigate down the correct roads to make sure they get to the scene as fast as possible. In areas with a lot of hills, this is even more critical as a wrong turn could result in a delay for hours. At the same time, there is always risk of a fire changing direction. RDO enables a remote operator to not only redirect units on the right roads, but they can keep an eye on the direction of the fire and signal when to move, and which houses to evacuate. 

As you can see, Remote Drone Operations is a game changer for drone missions, dramatically altering not only how we interact with drones across numerous industries, but extending their capabilities. No longer will it be the responsibility of one person to both fly a drone while keeping an eye on its video. Now, collaboration can take place among pilots and subject matter experts across cities, countries, and even oceans, driving dramatic operational efficiencies and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of today’s teams. 

Public SafetyYumi Nakamura