Before a SWAT team raid on a drug suspect, Texas agents launched a drone. A bird-size device called a Wasp floated hundreds of feet into the sky and instantly beamed live video to agents on the ground. The SWAT team stormed the house and arrested the suspect, says the Washington Post. “The nice thing is it's covert,” said Bill Nabors Jr., chief pilot of the Texas Department of Public Safety, who described the 2009 operation for the first time publicly. “You don't hear it, and unless you know what you're looking for, you can't see it.”
The drone technology that has revolutionized warfare abroad is entering the U.S. airspace: Unmanned aircraft are patrolling the border with Mexico, searching for missing persons over difficult terrain, flying into hurricanes to collect weather data, photographing traffic accident scenes and tracking the spread of forest fires. The Texas operation presaged what could be one of the most far-reaching and potentially controversial uses of drones: as a new and relatively cheap surveillance tool in domestic law enforcement. The Federal Aviation Administration requires the few police departments with drones to seek emergency authorization if they want to deploy one in an actual operation. Because of concerns about safety, it grants permission only occasionally. By 2013, the FAA expects to have formulated new rules that would allow police routinely to fly lightweight, unarmed drones up to 400 feet above the ground – high enough for them to be largely invisible eyes in the sky.