Louisville’s application to the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the city to fly automated police drones to gunshot sites was not among the agency’s 10 pilot project awardees announced this week.

Last year, the FAA created the UAS Integration Pilot Program, which allowed local governments to apply for innovation zones where new drone operations would be permitted beyond the current visual line-of-sight limitations.

The application submitted by the administration of Mayor Greg Fischer proposed for automated drones equipped with cameras to fly to sites identified by the city’s new ShotSpotter technology, giving police officers a fast assessment of what is happening at that scene.

ShotSpotter allows the Louisville Metro Police Department to triangulate coordinates of the sound of gunfire within roughly 80 feet, and the city’s drone application indicated that the camera footage from such drones would be monitored by the LMPD’s Real Time Crime Center.

Grace Simrall, the city’s chief of civic innovation, told Insider Louisville in a statement that they would continue to explore paths to implement the proposed drone program, despite the setback of not being an FAA awardee.

“We appreciate the FAA’s consideration of our application,” stated Simrall. “We intend to apply again and to explore alternative routes for launching this innovative violence reduction program. In the meantime, we will continue to work with partners to develop this technology with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and gather input from the community.”

In February, Louisville was named one of the 35 finalists in the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2018 Mayors Challenge — recognizing novel ideas to tackle tough problems — thanks to its automated drone proposal. The city received $100,000 to implement a public prototype during a six-month testing phase, and the eventual winner will receive a $5 million prize.

According to Reuters, the head of the FAA’s unmanned aircraft systems integration office told a Senate panel this week that many of the projects that were not awardees “could go forward under the FAA’s existing rules, including with waivers where appropriate,” with the agency reaching out to those local authorities “to provide additional information on how to operationalize their proposed projects.”

In the FAA news release announcing the 10 local and state government awardees, the agency indicated that the fields of “commerce, photography, emergency management, public safety, precision agriculture and infrastructure inspections” could see immediate opportunities from the program.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao stated that “data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace.”

The North Carolina Department of Transportation was one of the awardees, with the FAA describing their proposal as seeking “to test localized package delivery within a defined airspace by establishing drone delivery stations in local communities. This approach enables small businesses to utilize this delivery platform for commercial purposes.”

The application of the Memphis airport was also approved, which “focuses on the inspection of FedEx aircraft and autonomous operations that support airport operations such as perimeter security surveillance and package delivery.”

Other agencies approved by the FAA sought to use new drone projects related to checking pipelines and other infrastructure, border security, controlling mosquitoes and delivering medical equipment.

Over the next two and a half years, the awardees will collect a wide variety of drone data, helping the FAA “craft new enabling rules that allow more complex low-altitude operations, identify ways to balance local and national interests related to UAS integration, improve communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions, address security and privacy risks, and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.”

This story has been updated with Simrall’s statement.

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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