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US-Mexico border wall likely to be patrolled by more drones

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On Friday, President of the United States, Donald Trump, declared a national emergency in response to what he has termed a “crisis on the southern border.”

This controversial decision was due, he says, to the number of migrants and drugs arriving into the US via unsecured sections of the US-Mexico border.

The declaration comes despite the number of illegal border crossings falling over the past decade and the majority of over-stayers in the United States arriving via legal ports of entry. The declaration’s purpose is to help Trump access funds from Congress to construct a wall that had otherwise been refused to him. Whatever the wisdom of building a giant wall, it is clear that the amount of money that Trump would need to finish building his promised “big beautiful wall” is not going to be available. Whatever happened to his promise that Mexico would pay?

Even with the addition of billions of dollars, however, his wall (or steel fence, more accurately) will only cover a tiny portion of the nearly 2000 mile southern border (3145 km). CNET reports that drones may come to play an increasing role in border patrol. The appeal and effectiveness of drones on the border is obvious, they can see further than an agent’s eyes and they can follow predetermined routes autonomously, looking for anything unusual.

Sections of the border are already being patrolled by giant military-style drones with 66-foot (20 meter) wingspans. Suggestions from some in the UAV industry, however, is that smaller drones will make the job securing the southern border easier and more cost-effective when compared to other methods such as physical barriers.

“Drones are a natural fit for border security,” Diana Cooper, a senior vice president at PrecisionHawk, told CNET. “It’s much easier to retask a drone than a satellite.”

More drones on the border is likely to be unpopular with civil libertarians who generally rail against high-quality cameras equipped with face recognition software flying through the sky due to the massive risks that more drones in the sky pose to our privacy. Much of the US-Mexico border passes through densely populated areas. It is unlikely people will be thrilled about drones flying near their houses on the watch out for illegal border crossings.

A small stretch of the US-Mexico border next to Tijuana.

What sorts of drones are likely to be part of this border patrol effort?

As we’ve already mentioned, large, fixed-wing military-style drones are flying above sectors of the nearly 2000 mile border. Some of the drones that are likely to be part of future border patrol are:

Tethered drones 

Aria Insights sell six-rotor drones that are tethered to a power supply on the ground. As such, these drones can fly continuously for periods as long as 10 days

Radar-aided drones

Fortem Technologies’ produce a 1.5-pound (700 gram) tripod-mounted radar system that can undertake rapid long-range scans of stretches of the border. If anything is detected on the radar, border agents can deploy a self-piloting drone to check out anything concerning.

Whatever your feelings about the wisdom of spending more money on border security, it’s clear that drones are likely to be a big part of the solution both in the United States and elsewhere.

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