The essential guide to police drone accessories

Accessories can be broken down into mandatory, nice to have and “Gee, isn’t that cool?”


If reading the Police1 article about the drone of your dreams helped you implement a UAV program and you have selected your drone or drones of choice, it’s time to choose the appropriate accessories to go with them.

Accessories can be broken down by mandatory, nice to have and “gee, isn’t that cool?”

Mandatory

Spare batteries and chargers

Check your UAV’s specs for how long a battery lasts under different flight conditions, how long it takes to charge and whether multiple battery chargers are available. Faster chargers might shorten battery life so do your homework before making a commitment.

These are some essential questions you must answer: 

  • How many charges is the battery rated for?
  • Is one discharge pattern better than another?
  • How many hours a day is each UAV expected to be in the air?
  • Will your UAVs be out and about or stored at a central site?
  • Do you need one or more stationary or portable chargers?

Several companies are working on autonomous charging systems where the drone lands on a special pad and charges without intervention – something like a robot vacuum or smartphone charging pad.

Memory cards

High-resolution cameras on UAVs create megabytes of video in a very short period. Some UAVs only stream lower-resolution video to the controller while the high-res video is stored on the local memory card. Ensure that whatever card you buy is sized for the mission and is fast enough to store video at full speed.

Spare propellers

Props can break if the UAV accidentally hits something or if the pilot isn’t careful when mounting or removing them. They usually are proprietary, and some UAVs have different part numbers on the front, rear or sidearms. Ensure that you have at least two spares of each part number.

Anti-collision lights

Per FAA regulations, operational anti-collision lights that can be seen for 3 statute miles and have a flash rate “sufficient to avoid a collision” are required for night flights. Therefore, if you have nighttime flight operations, they are mandatory.

Carrying cases

There is a tradeoff between protection and weight. A lighter case is easier to carry over longer distances but may not protect the UAV if it is dropped.

These are some essential questions you must answer: 

  • Will staff carry UAVs and accessories in vehicles, on motorcycles, bicycles or on their backs into the wilderness (rangers, SAR)?
  • Does the case need to be drop-proof, waterproof?
  • How many and what types of accessories need to be in the same case as the UAV?

Tool kit

Screws can come loose and you might need to change accessories mid-mission, so a portable tool kit with the right bits should be high on your accessory list.

These cases both hold a UAV and other accessories, but one is water- and throw-proof for the trunk and the other is light enough to be carried on a bicycle or as a backpack. (Photo/Ron LaPedis)
Knowing how many batteries you need per shift will tell you how many and what type of chargers you need. Note that batteries are numbered for logging purposes and have a “reward if found” sticker. (Photo/Ron LaPedis)
When working on UAVs it is important that you know the torque specifications so that you don’t shear off screws by over-tightening them. Shown here are portable torque wrench kits from borkatools.com and store.fixitsticks.com. (Photo/Ron LaPedis)
A dedicated controller with a large screen can help the pilot navigate. (Photo/Ron LaPedis)
Prop guards are good for beginning pilots or indoor flight. (Photo/Ron LaPedis)

Nice to have

Upgraded controller

Some UAVs come standard with a tiny controller that uses your cellphone as a display. Upgrades might include a custom mount for a larger screen and sunshade or an upgraded controller with a screen designed to be used in bright sunlight.

Controller lanyard

Holding a drone controller for a long period of time can be tiring. A neck lanyard can help take the weight off and let you use your hands for other things without putting down the controller.

Anti-collision lights

Even if you do not fly at night, anti-collision or navigation lights are nice to have so that a pilot or support staff quickly can scan the skies for a UAV. Support personnel can look for a UAV in flight and provide the pilot with navigational input and if your drone gets hung up in a tree, lights might help you locate it.

Landing pad

Many modern drones have enough intelligence built in to be able to land on their own storage case or even in the pilot’s hand. Some need a much larger landing target, or perhaps you are taking off from a dusty or muddy area where you don’t want to put your UAV directly on the ground. Dozens of different sizes and designs are available including packable and weighted pads.

Mountable accessories

Some UAVs have mounting points and connectors on them for accessories, while you can use Velcro or gaffers’ tape on others. Some available accessories are spotlights, speakers and night vision cameras. A remotely operated release kit can be used to deliver a negotiating phone, keys, first aid or bleed kit or even spare magazines and ammunition. One vendor offers an accessory that will let a UAV secure a low-weight mount which can be used to haul a climbing line into place.

Prop guards

While some UAVs are advertised as being “crash-proof,” accidents can happen – even to experienced pilots. If prop guards are available for your UAV, it might be nice to have a set available if needed, even when flying outdoors.


2021 guide to drones in law enforcement (eBook)

2021 guide to drones in law enforcement (eBook)

It is hard to think of any technology that has seen such rapid and widespread integration into law enforcement operations as drones. The number of agencies using UAS has skyrocketed, as has the number of use cases for police drones. It is the diversity and affordability of this new technology that makes it so invaluable for police departments.


Isn’t that cool?

VR headset

Talk about getting your head in the game. Drone racers have used VR goggles since drone racing became a reality, but to control your drone with a VR headset is still very new for the everyday drone user. Some headsets have built-in screens while you slip your own smartphone into others. As you move your head around, either the camera or the drone moves with you. Because US law requires direct line-of-sight to your drone while it’s in the air outside, you either can use VR goggles to fly inside or have a Tactical Beyond Visual Line of Sight (TBVLOS) waiver to use VR goggles outside.

Landing gear extensions

Some UAVs sit close to the ground and pilots might want them to be higher for takeoff and landing. Folding landing gear extensions let the drone fit into its original case. If the UAV really needed to sit higher, the manufacturer probably would have designed it that way.

Skins

Several companies offer vinyl skins custom cut for specific drones. Available designs come from pop culture, movie franchises and famous artists. Perhaps an X-wing fighter skin might make your public relations or search and rescue drone look more friendly to the public.

GPS tracker

Most drones have built-in GPS, but what happens if your drone crashes and the battery pops out? You might want to consider a lightweight GPS tracker for your drone.

Range extender

While it sounds like a gimmick, several options are available if you need to boost the drone control and/or video reception signal. Some of these are parabolic metalized reflectors that slide over your controller’s antennas, directional replacement antennas and signal boosters which attach in place of your existing antennas and have amplifiers that can boost the signal in both directions.

Summary

The accessories that you need will depend on the missions you need to fly, your staff and your budget. Lack of some accessories can put missions in jeopardy, while missing others only makes missions inconvenient or more stressful. And some accessories just make your drone program more tacticool without adding actual value. Safe flights!


Download this Police1 drones/unmanned aircraft systems buying guide

Download this Police1 drones/unmanned aircraft systems buying guide

This Police1 guide provides information on what law enforcement agencies need to consider when determining how to integrate this technology into their equipment cache.


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