Like Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security thinks we should have more drones patrolling America’s borders and airports, and they are looking to tech startups in Silicon Valley to develop the system.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and already use drones to surveil the border, but DHS is investing in development of new ways to get more out of the budding technology, particular smaller, lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles.
DHS announced a five-year innovation program to develop better drone technology specifically for border security this week. The agency has invited tech companies from around the country to apply for grant money for development of small drones that are easy to operate, fly longer, weigh less, and can weather extreme conditions.
Trump’s border security plan includes has called for more drone surveillance along the border, in addition to the wall which he expects Mexico to pay for.
“[Drones] would work in conjunction with the Border Patrol, who are fantastic people who want to do their job,” Trump told Syracuse.
A report from DHS’ inspector general last year called into question the effectiveness of Predator drones deployed along the border. DHS found that the heavy, expensive Predator drones were grounded most of the time, and weren’t particularly effective at surveilling the nearly-2,000 mile border with Mexico.
The report found that Border Patrol agents “cannot demonstrate how much the program has improved border security.” Drones aided in fewer than 2 percent of all apprehensions of illegal immigrants in 2013, the Washington Post reported.
Part of the issue with the Predator drone is its size and the concurrent expense of keeping it in the air. It costs approximately $12,255 to fly one Predator drone for a single hour. DHS’ innovation program encourages companies to come up with technology that is small, lightweight, can survive extreme weather conditions, and fly lower to the ground.
DHS plans to award an undisclosed number grants worth between $200,000 and $800,000 each, assuming the awardee meets project specifications throughout the five years of the project. The Silicon Valley office of the DHS is host an “industry day” at the end of July where companies can pitch their ideas in front of Homeland Security officials.
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