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Unmanned planes to spy on L.A.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.

Now flying over the smog-filled skies of Los Angeles is an unmanned aerial vehicle, known as a UAV, that is aimed at filling surveillance needs that include searching for missing people or tracking fleeing suspects. The aptly named SkySeer looks like a small airplane but weighs just five pounds. It can zoom up to 30 miles an hour and can stay aloft for up to 70 minutes at a time. Better yet, it can fly all by itself on a fixed flight pattern.

Low-light and infrared vision are features on this UAV. The primary mode of operation is the camera on the underside, which is able to pan and tilt and can send video directly to a laptop command station. It is so small that it is effectively a Stealth plane.

The Sheriff’s Department sees the SkySeer, which costs as much as US$30,000, as taking the place in certain operations of a helicopter, which can cost more than 10 times that amount. Initial tests are ongoing, but the department hopes to have a few UAVs patrolling the Greater Los Angeles area by the end of the year.

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