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Houston, Texas to Deploy UAV Speeding Ticket Drones
Unmanned spy planes could issue speeding tickets in Houston, Texas by June 2008.

By June 2008, the city of Houston will use the same military drone aircraft currently used to hunt down terrorists overseas to write speeding citations on Texas freeways. Local television station KPRC exposed the Houston Police Department's plan by using the station's news helicopter to spy on what was supposed to be a confidential gathering of area law enforcement personnel where the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities were demonstrated. The test took place seventy miles northwest of Houston in Waller County.

While police have used aircraft to issue speeding tickets for years, the practice can be quite expensive. The cost to operate an aircraft such as a Cessna 182 can run beyond $200 an hour, which cuts into ticketing revenue. The UAV manufactured by Insitu, however, can stay aloft for up to twenty hours using just over a gallon of gasoline. While it only cruises at 55 MPH with a top speed of 86 MPH, its powerful onboard camera can zoom in on a vehicle from a distance of 60 miles with full night-vision capabilities.

Although Houston Police Executive Assistant Police Chief Martha Montalvo told reporters that the main mission of the device would be homeland security, KPRC confirmed that the department's traffic unit played the lead role in the demonstration.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has opposed unrestricted police use of UAVs in navigable airspace at altitudes including the 1500 feet level used in the Houston test.

"The prospect of small UAVs flitting around in the same airspace we use is frightening," AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs Melissa Rudinger said in a statement last year. "What do you think your chances are of seeing this thing before you hit it? And it can't sense you or get out of the way."

Depending on options, each UAV can cost up to $1 million.

Source: Police Secrecy Behind Unmanned Aircraft Test (KPRC-TV (TX), 11/21/2007)

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