Utah City Seeks to Deploy Surveillance Blimp

The military technology would be used to deter and solve crimes.
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The military technology would be used to deter and solve crimes.

The city of Ogden, Utah is considering deploying an unmanned floating airship surveillance system to fight crime in its neighborhoods, according to published reports.

If the airship is deployed, it will use military technology now available to local law enforcement, according to Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey, who added it would be used to deter crime and solve crimes. What makes the blimp effective is it is “extremely silent,” and can “hover” over an area, “or silently meander over pre-programmed courses” during the night, Godfrey said.

However, Ogden’s city council has yet to approve the plan. However, if the proposal is affirmed, the blimp could join the police department’s equipment inventory by April 2011, according to officials.

The blimp is being developed by the Utah Center for Aeronautical Innovation and Design at Weber State University. The 52 foot long, cigar-shaped blimp is a helium-filled balloon with a special coating of fabric developed at their center. The airship can fly at a speed of 40 miles per hour, at a height of 400 feet. The blimp is powered by batteries and will be able to fly for up to six hours before needing a recharge. Its surveillance equipment includes two cameras that will have night-vision capabilities.

The airship only requires a single operator, but the blimp can also function on its own with programming directives. The blimp will be used mostly at night as a way to obtain data that can increase the safety of officers, according to Godfrey.

The airship’s purchase cost is estimated to be in “the high five-figures” with the surveillance equipment—especially the night vision cameras—the most expensive part of the system. However, the cost of operating the unmanned airship is estimated to be $100 per month, or more “cost effective” to operate than helicopters or fixed winged aircraft, Godfrey said.