South African residential estates are now using drones to keep their perimeters secure, according to Kim James, director of Drone Guards – a company which has been contracted to provide drone security services to a number of residential estates in the country.
Speaking to BusinessTech, James said that all of the drones are piloted by a human operator, with a second operator often waiting on standby depending on conditions.
“The drones are programmed to follow a co-ordinated GPS position around the perimeter of the estate, with the pilot trained to take it off course and follow an intruder if need be,” she said.
“In addition to high-end cameras, they are also equipped with thermal technology for night time flights with the video live-streamed to a ground control which monitors the feeds.”
Unlike a traditional static CCTV setup, James said that drones can actively patrol an area which means they are preventative instead of reactive.
“They also have the added element of surprise as people can’t know what we can see,” she said.
With drones being used in residential areas, there are some regulatory and privacy concerns that may arise.
James said that while Drone Guards has been given licensing permission by the national drone regulator to fly over residential areas and roads, there are still a number of strict rules the group must follow, she said.
This includes the rule that no drone may fly above 400 feet (120 metres) and that the security service must ask for homeowner permission before flying a drone over a property.
“It is not our intention to fly over houses, and we only want to fly over the perimeter of these estates,” said James.
“Regulation says that we have to get homeowner permission or Home Owner Association permission in the case of an estate. If we want to fly over a road we also need the permission of the municipality.”
While the regulations do not provide guidance on the privacy aspects of drone usage, James said that they have taken a number of preventative steps including tilting the cameras in such a way so that they may not see into people’s gardens.
She added that Drone Guards have held a number of open days to demonstrate the technology to residents and has not had difficulty in obtaining permission from estates.
Costs and other security systems
James couldn’t provide information on which estates were currently using drone technology for security reasons, but confirmed that the service is currently live in a number of areas.
“At present, not one estate we have presented to has said that it is not interested,” said James.
“However, a number of states have a clear security budget and are seeing this as an additional cost. This means they are looking to cut in other areas while introducing these drones.
“We instead recommend a more layered approach so that estates slowly introduce these drones in addition to their current security offerings.”
One possible way around the cost issue, is a ‘neighbour-model’ that Drone Guards is currently trialling, said James.
This model allows multiple neighbouring properties to chip into the costs of the drone which will then focus on a randomised property each night of the week.
“This way the owners are only paying for the drone one night a week, but if there is an incident the operator can quickly fly from spot A to spot B and identify any issues,” James said.