A pair of dangerous convicts have escaped from the local prison and are believed to be hiding out in an overgrown corn field. The men might be armed, but the cops can't be sure. They could send in a police helicopter, but its noisy approach would tip off the fugitives to lay low. Plus, most local police forces can't afford a helicopter.
Bring on the drones!
Stowed in the trunk of the squad car and assembled in minutes, a police drone can quietly buzz over the field, capturing real-time infrared and thermal images to locate the fugitives. The cameras could also detect if the men are armed or injured, critical information for planning their capture while protecting officers' lives.
Drone-assisted police work is already a reality in cities and towns across America, but has run into strong resistance from privacy advocates who fear the emergence of a Big Brother-like police state [source: Sengupta]. For the most part, police drones have been limited to search-and-rescue operations, or taking aerial photos of an accident or crime scene [source: Pilkington].
Another potentially controversial use of police drones is for crowd control during violent protests or riots. A South African company builds and sells a wicked-looking crowd-control drone called the "Skunk" armed with four paintball guns that can each shoot 20 rounds per second. Note that the paintballs can also be swapped out for rubber bullets or pepper spray pellets [source: Gray].