Integrating drone and gunfire sensor technology

What if a drone company joined its technologically innovative forces with a gunfire locator service?

The answer to that is one we are going to get in good time now – because drone company Airobotics will be testing that with a gunshot locating company very soon.

The Israeli autonomous drone company has announced that they will be collaborating with controversial American company ShotSpotter to develop an integrated solution that will enable Israeli law enforcement agencies to identify shooting incidents in the urban space and locate their location in real time.

The solution will be based on ShotSpotter’s acoustic monitoring platform, which automatically monitors gunshot sounds in the city, and Airobotics’ autonomous drone, which will serve as a kind of “police helicopter” to observe the incident from the air.

The two companies will be carrying out a pilot in a city or locality in Israel that suffers from multiple illegal shootings, in cooperation with the Israel Police or a municipal body.

ShotSpotter’s gunfire detection platform is based on acoustic sensors installed on lampposts and other city infrastructure – at a rate of between 20 and 25 sensors per square mile – to monitor a particular urban area cell such as a neighbourhood or main street.

Using artificial intelligence algorithms, the system will detect the sound of explosives that characterises firing, based on analysis of the characteristics of the wave, and through triangulation locates the location. An alert is sent to a control centre, where the alert is manually verified and passed on to the police. The whole process takes place in 60 seconds. The system knows how to filter the many background noises that characterise urban areas, such as the car noises, rain and wind, and can distinguish gunfire from similar noises such as fireworks, construction work and helicopter noises.

However, while it does sound revolutionary, and can be a real asset for the security industry, ShotSpotter’s technology has had its share of controversy, mainly to do with the accuracy of their detectors. While the company claims a 97 percent accuracy rate, the MacArthur Justice Center studied over 40,000 dispatches in an under two-year period in Chicago and found that 89 percent of police alerts resulted in no gun-related crime, and 86 percent resulted in no crime at all.

At the time, the ShotSpotter CEO described an earlier 80 percent accuracy rate as “basically our subscription warranty,” and employee Paul Greene said the accuracy guarantee “was put together by our sales and marketing department, not our engineers.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also raised questions about privacy and surveillance, as the detectors keep hours or days of continuous audio.

When Forbes sent public records requests to agencies in 2016, ShotSpotter sent a memo to all of its customers, detailing how they should deny or redact the requests.

Besides, the sensors are said to be disproportionately placed in minority communities in the USA, leading to more interactions with police, often from false alerts.

But the technology has been installed in more than 120 cities in the USA to date and claims to have detected more than 350,000 shooting incidents in 2019 and 2020. As of 2021, Shot Spotter evidence has been used in 190 court cases. The company said the use of its system shortened the time of the troop call to the scene from 4.5 minutes to 60 seconds.

“In this way, the system also helps shorten the evacuation times for injured people to hospitals and increase decoding rates,” said a report in an Israeli publication, Techtime. “For example, in Auckland, California, medical treatment was served to about 101 people in shootings in which there was no telephone report to the police about the incident. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, saw a 36 percent drop in homicides. West Palm Beach, Florida, saw a 65 percent and 60 percent decrease in homicides and shootings respectively.”

In integrating drone technology to ShotSpotter’s sensor technology, Airobotics’ autonomous drone will provide round-the-clock aerial coverage of the area, and in the event of a shooting incident, the sensors will alert the drone, which will presumably be standing by in its nest nearby.

Designed to fly in demanding weather conditions and to operate fully autonomously, the drone will leave its nest to survey the alerted area to within one centimetre accuracy, before returning to the docking station to recharge.

“There is a serious problem in Israel of the proliferation of illegal shootings,” said Eitan Rothberg, Vice President of Product and Marketing at Airobotics. “In this collaboration, we are putting in place a technological solution that is effectively proven in the United States and can help in the fight of Israeli law enforcement.

“Our drone actually replaces the role of a police helicopter. Most municipalities do not have the resources to keep a helicopter on alert; so using our two drones, which take off, land, charge the battery and replace chargers independently, continuous aerial monitoring can be achieved quickly and responses to incidents done faster.”


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