Skies were clear above Riverfront Park on Thursday morning as area law enforcement representatives watched drone flight demonstrations and learned more about potentials for their future use.
Leaders from Project Lifesaver International, including founder and CEO Gene Saunders, explained the history and details of how agencies use drones — or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — to help them locate those using Project Lifesaver transmitters.
Almost all Central Virginia law enforcement agencies have a Project Lifesaver program in place. Project Lifesaver International is a nonprofit that was founded in 1998 and has administrative offices in both Chesapeake and Port St. Lucie, Florida. It provides transmitters to people with conditions like Alzheimer’s that can cause them to wander from home so officials can locate them faster.
Representatives from the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office, Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, Nelson County Sheriff’s Office, Danville Sheriff’s Office and Lynchburg Police Department watched as the Indago model drone hovered above the park and relayed the location of a hidden transmitter.
Saunders told observers the Indago, a military-grade drone specially suited for Project Lifesaver’s operations, costs $48,000 for a member agency of Project Lifesaver International to purchase through the nonprofit, plus additional costs for training three drone operators and insurance for the vehicle.
Project Lifesaver began using drones about three years ago after connecting with aerospace and technology company Lockheed Martin, which produces the Indago drone. The drones have helped reduce recovery time for those that have gone missing, Saunders said.
“The next evolution … we’re really looking at is trying to pair it with a camera,” he said after the demonstrations. “The problem you have with that is having a camera small enough that will give you the picture you want and not drain all your power.”