Crime–fighting robots

A remote–control surveillance robot is so simple even cops can use it.

A small company in Waterloo, Ont., could be developing the future of surveillance technology — a quiet, lightweight flying robot called the Scout. The device from Aeryon Labs Inc. is far easier to use than existing products, which are typically controlled with joysticks.

“When we spoke to police offers, one said, ???We’re not that bright, we’ve got fat fingers, and we break things,” says president Dave Kroetsch. Luckily for them, the Scout does not require the dexterity of a video-game fanatic to operate. Aeryon, formed in 2007, developed software and a touch-screen tablet to control the Scout. An aerial map is shown onscreen, and the user simply touches the desired location to dispatch the Scout. “If you can use Google Maps, you can use our system,” Kroetsch says.

The Scout finished the testing phase this year and is already in use by some. Police in Central America used it when planning a raid on a drug lord’s jungle compound. In 11 minutes, the robot flew to the location, snapped pictures, recorded video, and returned, letting police know what to expect inside. “Before, they would take an armoured car and drive it through the wall,” Kroetsch says. That’s a dangerous option when it’s unclear what’s on the other side.

Cash-strapped police forces are ideal customers. A helicopter costs millions, whereas the Scout starts at $50,000. But there are other markets. BP purchased a few for use in Alaska, where it’s planning an offshore well, and Kroetsch says the Scout can be used in land surveying, air-quality monitoring, and wildlife research, all because of the ease of its touch-screen controls. “It’s taking our product to markets where a joystick system just can’t go,” he says.