Planck Aerosystems will supply the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents with a unmanned aerial detection system. The CBP will test autonomous drones that will be able to provide situational awareness for agents working between ports of entry.

Planck has been working with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) to build and test prototypes of its autonomous small unmanned aerial vehicles, or sUAV. The CBP has been promoting biometric screening at airports while issuing a call for biometric vendor partners. Furthermore, the company offers the ability to operate autonomously from a moving vehicle or vessel on land or at sea. Their technologies are designed for surveillance, reconnaissance, real-time situational awareness, and force protection. Drone autonomy is basically based on computer vision and navigation facilities.

“Through a combination of integrated technologies, including full-motion video, automatic target detection and geolocation, Planck seeks to provide CBP agents with a portable, ruggedized detection system that provides real-time situational awareness in the field,” explained S&T in its announcement of the project.

US border patrol drone
Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (sUAV) by Planck

Collaborations and funding of the project

“S&T is looking for technologies to enhance the efficacy of CBP patrols while simultaneously increasing the safety of patrolling agents,” added Silicon Valley Innovation Program Managing Director Melissa Oh. DHS already uses drones and other aerial technology to monitor the border, but this sUAS can be deployed on the go.

The Silicon Valley Innovation Program uses the department’s other transaction authority to foster the development of technologies that can be applied directly to agency missions. The program offers individual projects up to $800,000 across four phases, beginning with $50,000 to $200,000 awarded to develop a proof-of-concept demo, as part of the incremental funding structure. Moreover, S&T can opt to continue the project with an award of between $50,000 and $200,000 for phase two, which consists of building a pilot-ready prototype within three to six months, if the demo is successful. Phases three and four—with the same funding and time ranges—provide for testing the prototype through a pilot and in various operational scenarios, respectively.

The test will likely be unwelcome to privacy advocates as opposed to more widespread border surveillance. Along with the Predator drone, these drones might level up the surveillance capabilities of US border patrol agents.

US and Mexico border