Drones have become a favorite tool for smuggling drugs and other contraband into prisons, but now one institution is turning the technology against criminals. Northward Prison in the Cayman Islands has become the first facility in the world to successfully deploy a drone to prevent an attempted drug delivery.
The Cayman Islands Prison Service decided to explore how drones could be used to prevent drug smuggling after Director of Prisons Neil Lavis heard about drones being used by criminals in the United States. Working with local drone firm AirVu, Lavis trained prison guards how to fly camera-equipped quadcopters for the purpose of surveillance.
During one of the training operations at the prison in May, one of the drones spotted two men carrying backpacks leaving the prison’s perimeter through bushes. While prison staff were unable to apprehend the men, they were able to retrieve a large stash of marijuana that had been thrown over the prison fence.
“We were just coming to the end of training when we spotted people leaving the prison area,” Lavis tells Newsweek. “While we weren’t able to catch the people involved, we were able to use the drone to locate the drugs and quickly retrieve them.”
This early success has encouraged Lavis to continue training guards to fly drones, with the hope that eventually automated flight paths can be used to scout out smugglers. Lavis says the new approach is both more cost effective and safer than sending out guards to manually patrol the prison’s perimeter.
A training program developed by AirVu and drone software developer Skyward has already been certified by the local civil aviation authority.
“This is quite a significant step towards potentially rolling this out on a wider scale,” says Caine Smith, CEO of AirVu. Smith believes the surveillance drones could also prove useful in successfully prosecuting smugglers.
Smith adds: “In terms of evidence gathering—the video and images that the drone captures are of course the key part—but the software is able to show and prove when and where the aircraft was flying.”