In the days leading up to the NFL Championship Game in Atlanta last weekend, FBI officers confiscated six drones flying closer to the stadium than temporary flight restrictions allowed.
With local drone pilots either not aware or deliberately ignoring the flight ban, there were no doubt concerns that the Super Bowl could be impacted by its very own Battle of Gatwick situation. Fortunately, drone technology will be remembered for being an important part of the security operation, rather than the target of its efforts.
Tethered DJI drones deployed to support Super Bowl security
Public safety UAS specialists Skyfire worked alongside the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and a team of pilots, security experts and software partners to deploy two tethered drones in the skies above Atlanta. The drones were in position to overlook events and respond in case of an emergency.
“This is one of the first times drones have been used to secure a large, tier 1 event,” said Matt Sloane, CEO of Skyfire. “We are honored that these agencies entrusted us with overwatch for one of the biggest events in our state’s history.”
According to a company press release, Sloane and his team spent more than 12 months gaining the necessary approvals from the FAA, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to operate at the event.
“It was interesting to coordinate and fly drones just a few hundred feet below Black Hawk helicopters,” said Sloane, ”and we were just a few thousand feet from the biggest sporting event in the world.”
On Sloane’s team was Mike Briant, a veteran law enforcement and counter-terrorism specialist from the Skydas Group.
“Real-time, actionable information for the guys on the ground is essential and allows you to respond much more quickly to a critical incident than you could [if] having to rely on traditional aviation assets,” said Briant.
“The drones allow security specialists to spot unusual behavior long before they reach the main venue.”
Read more: Intel’s Drones Light Up The Super Bowl Again
DJI and FLIR equipment, tethered
Both tethered drones were a DJI Matrice 210, a multipurpose aircraft designed for industrial inspections and public safety. Arguably its headline feature is the ability to carry two payloads at the same time. In this case, both were fitted with DJI’s Zenmuse Z30 zoom camera and the Zenmuse XT2 thermal imaging camera.
Both drones hovered at 200 feet and were secured and powered by Drone Aviation Corp’s FUSE tethering system. Live optical and thermal video was streamed through the DroneSense software platform to law enforcement command centers in over a dozen locations.
“Drones can help make large events like this one safer by gathering information in a way that no other platform can,” said Ryan Bracken, business development lead for DroneSense and a former FBI special agent. “But that intelligence, whether it’s a video stream or other data, has to get to the right people in real time to make it usable, and that’s where our software excels.”
Providing law enforcement with a safer, cheaper alternative
According to Skyfire’s Sloane, this is the first of many large-scale events his team will work on. With the DoT’s new rule proposals, gaining permission to safely use drones around crowds of people may be easier than previously.
“This technology is game-changing and although big federal agencies have a slew of helicopters with many of these same sensors, there are areas that are just too small or unsafe for large manned aircraft,” said Sloane. “Drone technology is the perfect adjunct to helicopters and allows us to exponentially increase security flights without adding significant cost.”