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Ogden police eying unmanned blimp for night patrol

By Keith McCord | Posted - Jan. 13, 2011 at 6:15 p.m.


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OGDEN -- Law enforcement agencies use many tools to keep their communities safe: manpower, vehicles, weapons.

But the Ogden Police Department is about to become the first agency in the country to add something new: A helium-filled blimp that can be pre-programmed to fly a certain path with multiple cameras on board that can send video in realtime to officers on the ground.

Earlier this week, Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey went before the city council and proposed using a remote control blimp for aerial surveillance over the city.

Many agencies around the country use manned helicopters, but they're very expensive. The city worked with Weber State University to find a cheaper alternative.

"It can do so much more," Mayor Godfrey said. "It can cover so much more ground with such tremendous precision, much more effective than a person on the ground."

The concept isn't new. The military has been using remote controlled vehicles for years on the battlefield, but new advancements in technology have made the necessary equipment smaller, lighter and a lot cheaper.

"It provides a very viable, low-cost alternative for them, in effect, to put a patrolman in the sky," said Bradley Stringer, Executive Director of the Utah Center for Aeronautical Innovation and Design (UCAID) at Weber State. "To the best of our knowledge this will be a blimp's debut in law enforcement in a metropolitan setting."

Ogden's mayor and police chief worked with Weber State University to develop this so-called unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV for law enforcement surveillance.

At first glance, it looks like a toy. It's 52 feet long and 4 feet wide. It's fast and can turn on a dime.

Ogden hopes to have its first blimp on patrol as soon as the spring of 2011. Godfrey expects other law enforcement agencies will be paying close attention.

"The price points that we've been discussing are so attractive that I imagine that if this works they way we all expect it will, this will be something that will be deployed in many if not all police departments around the country," Godfrey said.

The cost of a blimp would be about the same as a well-equipped, full-sized law enforcement vehicle.

E-mail: kmccord@ksl.com

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