Drones are most often associated with images of deadly force, eliminating targets hundreds of kilometres away at the touch of a button. However, their utility can go far beyond the battlefield. Developments in new generations of this tool have allowed them to be utilized predominantly, but not exclusively, by emergency services in urban environments. Police forces, medical services, fire departments and others have the potential to utilize drone technology.
Today, urban drones are operated by either law enforcement agencies or local emergency services, and are primarily used for reconnaissance and information gathering. They allow for live, on-the-ground data collection that can be transmitted quickly. This quick communication is essential to react to unfolding events such as fires, protests, large-scale celebrations, and natural disasters.
Based on the technology and equipment used, these urban drones can be deployed in many different situations and by a variety of agencies. Fire departments can use them to assess the situation before crews arrive on the scene: urban drones can enter into buildings before crews to evaluate the stability of the building and help determine if there are people trapped inside. Police forces can conduct close or long-range surveillance, track fleeing suspects, and provide support to officers when entering a building.
Drones typically deployed in urban environments are much smaller than those conducting aerial strikes in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Larger scale UAVs, known as airships, have not yet been used over cities, but the idea has been floated (no pun intended). These airships could be used to provide traffic updates, surveillance of large gatherings or sporting events such as the Olympics, as well as logistical guidance to emergency services in the event of natural disasters or terrorist attacks. However, the use of theses airships and UAVs in general raise serious questions regarding privacy and the gathering of information. Just as UAVs used for air strikes in conflict zones have become increasingly controversial, UAVs used in urban environments for surveillance may become just as contentious.