Global Drone Security Network Event #2- Kim James (DroneGuards)
This is the third post of GDSN #2 review, if you haven't read our previous reviews it is a good time to check out the other great talks!
Kim James (DroneGuards) - Securing High Value Assets against the Cost Benefit Equation
Thank you so much, Mike and team and thanks for having me. So, my name is Kim James, as Mike said. Today, I'm going to be talking from a completely different perspective to what Mike and Chris spoke about. First of all, in South Africa refer to RPAS or drones. But for today's talk, I'm going to be referring to drones for the ease of it. And also, I'm going to be talking from an operator perspective. And also, from a position of drones for good. So, this is where we use drones to protect people, and what we call high value assets. So, this is property, mines or anything that would be deemed a valuable asset. So, I'd like to very briefly give you a bit of background on myself, as Mike said, I'm the director of DroneGuard, which is our security brand. Our operating license under Part 101 of South Africa, and I'll get to that in a bit, is uav aerial works. I am the safety and security post holder from a regulatory perspective. I'm very fortunate to be on the CUAASA ExCo which is the commercial unmanned aircraft association of Southern Africa. And if anyone's picked up a copy of Drone Professional 1, I had the privilege of writing a chapter in that book about drone security in South Africa. A very quick background, we also have a company called SkyRobots, where we are betting on the future of fully autonomous security drones. We're developing a full turnkey drone security solution. And in our AerialWorks brand, we do surveys, inspections, etc. But today I'm going to be talking about the security aspect of our business. And that's where we actually conduct aerial drone security surveillance, and we also do some drone security advisory. So why security. South Africa takes up unfortunately, four spots in the top 10 most dangerous places in the world to live from a crime stats perspective, and that was updated I believe in June this year. Socio economic issues in South Africa. Unemployment, which is estimated to being above 35% by the end of this year, does drive crime and it's everything from opportunistic crime where someone is hungry and is going to steal an electric fence that you think is protecting a property here in South Africa to turn in for scrap metal to highly sophisticated crime syndicates. So how do we as an operator do this in South Africa without labouring the regulations? South Africa has the mandate to interpret and implement standards and recommended practice practices from ICAO, and we consider the local context. And in 2015, the RPAS Part 101 was promulgated. And to date there are only about 70 odd remote operating certificates holders in South Africa. And out of those I believe there are probably only three or four that focus on drone security. Needless to say, regulations have been overtaken by technology. And we'll get to that a little bit further on. So, drones in South Africa, just as a very brief overview, again, from a regulatory perspective, on the bottom right-hand side, the company operating has to be registered under Part 101. The individual flying the drone has to be licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority of South Africa, and the drones have to be insured for third party liability insurance. So, what does my day-to-day job entail when it comes to drone security? So, expectation management, basically, I put the slide in, it always gets a few giggles, I can't see anyone, but normally in an audience, before our lovely COVID-19 restrictions, I would, I would actually play a video from the oblivion and you can see Tom Cruise there. And the reason we put that in there is because the first conversations that come up when we talk to potential clients around drone security surveillance is can you weaponize this drone. And unlike Mike and Chris, who talked about shooting drones down in counter drone measures, what we have to deal with here is individual security companies, etc. Having expectations that we can actually shoot criminals from the drone. So, the answer is, I guess one could, but we may not yet at the stage, although we are looking into non-lethal, weaponized drones for the future. And that would be things like pepper spray, or anything non-lethal like that. Needless to say, we may not do that now. This is a very rudimentary explanation of where we are today versus expectations. And the current state is we have security, ground security, protecting our residents in residential areas, as well as small commercial sites, small holdings, farms, mines, etc.
What is possible today in 2020, regulatory wise is that we have one drone operated by one drone operator, and that drone operator has to be on the site that the drone is being operated from. So, we essentially fly from A, wherever we're flying to, landing back at B. And that is where the remote pilot station would be. Expectations and absolutely what technology and regulations I guess are aiming for is that you could potentially have one operator with multiple drones. And that would be you know that kind of swarming effect. And that operator may not actually be on site, and in the future would be fully autonomous drones. But what we can do today is one operator and one drone. And where are we using these drones to in the South African context, protects higher high value assets and people and that would be anything from residential estates, as I already said, communities in crowd control shopping centres, mines, commercial properties, game reserves, crime scene management, or anywhere where there is an asset to be protected. Essentially, we want to be one step ahead of the criminal on the ground. So, what are some of the applications again in a South African context and what we are doing. And for anyone who is on this on the stream in South Africa, you would know that we have residential areas or for anyone who is not familiar with a South African context would refer to them as gated communities. So, these are anything from a few 100 houses to a few 1000 houses that are protected by a border or a perimeter fence or wall. Much like farms or small commercial sites. And that is what we focus on. So, when we talk about unmanned aerial vehicle activity or drone activity, what are we actually using the drone for? So, in the first instance, we want to add a layer of defence. So much like the expectation management we do every day, which says the drone cannot capture, the drone can identify, the drone can pursue, and the drone can be the eye in the sky, for the security operation on the ground. So, we work very closely with security companies. And in the first instance, we want to be proactive. So, where we oftentimes in areas of residential protection, get to see criminals that are more opportunistic. They have however, staked out that area for a number of days, or even weeks. And so early detection, is what we're all about. That is what we want to be able to use as, as prevention more than anything else. So, this is where we talk about visible policing, day and night operations, where individuals would ordinarily have weeks and days to stake out as I said, and then hit when they know the coast is clear. As soon as the drone is in the air, and they see this thing that they've never seen before, they move on to the next softer target. So, in the first instance, that's a win for us. Where we then use randomization, and we joke about this being our mathematical secret. We have patrols as well as randomized patrols. That is where we can respond to specific incidents. And in a South African context, where it is extremely easy to obtain illegal weapons, the criminals don't think twice about shooting at a security guard, we've had many incidents where security guards get injured or killed. And so, in this instance, the drone would most likely be taken off the planned mission and respond to an incident, whether that would be a zone or a or a perimeter trigger, or something that gets called in from a security guard or even something that the drone has picked up.
That would then enable decision support. So, do you send your security guard on the ground into a situation where you can see five armed or heavily armed men breaching a perimeter fence. And so that is that is mitigating, its monitoring, and it's allowing that decision support. And then lastly, post incident activity. So, if there is an incident, the incident would have been recorded. Data analysis is referred to any activity where, for example, the criminals have run off, and the drone has been able to record their MOs so where is their path that they've staked out their escape path? Where have they breached a perimeter fence that's maybe a neighbouring property, etc. And we also use that for training purposes.
So, I'd like to show you a few examples. I would ordinarily play videos, but I haven't taken the chance given the intermittent Wi Fi signal in this area where I'm at the moment, so I've just taken screenshots. But as I said previously, we combine our surveillance with visible and covert operations. This is a very quick example of a residential estate that was affected by cable theft in South Africa. Copper cable theft, underground cables get stolen on the daily. It’s been reported as of last year, I think that the losses in South Africa of copper cable theft run up to the 400 billion dollars a year. And that leaves residential areas without power, main transport lines with our power, and etc, etc. So, it's a massive problem. And in the residential estates where the copper cables get stolen, these copper cables run through neighbouring properties, under roads, into government, land, etc. So, we do patrols over eight properties in that residential area, including a road. And the reason why that's significant is because in the context of South African regulations, landowner permission needs to be obtained for each of those pieces of land. And needless to say, even after a few weeks of flying these routes, human activity is reduced completely. So again, the next best softer target is then chosen rather than where the drone is actually patrolling. This is an example of activity, untoward activity at a very large private upmarket game reserve, in South Africa. And given COVID-19 lockdown, there was very little activity in terms of residents coming to their weekend houses etc. And the criminals had plenty of time to access these grounds and stake out where they were going to break in. And so, this is an example of thermal cameras, high-definition thermal cameras that can pick up human activity. And over there, you can see in their triangle, a person standing still. This is pitch dark, you cannot see your hand in front of your eyes. And this is what the thermal camera picks up. So, the ground forces are then able to be pinpointed to where that that person is actually hiding. And this is an example of a small holding where we patrol at night. And this is the very simplest of computer vision software where items are identified. And essentially identified and this is where we're teaching the computer basically to identify the difference between vehicles and humans, we can track distances etc. Given a small holding, there are a lot of animals. So, from a thermal or a heat signature perspective, you really want to rule those things out. So, we're getting better and better at identifying the untoward activity versus what's already there. And in the context, again, of residential areas, this is where we would go and do a risk assessment of the specific sites, weak spots, so a little river that's running through a golf estate, wide open areas that are used as thoroughfares between roads, by pedestrians coming to work, for example stormwater drainage coming onto the property, and the most favourite of criminals in South Africa, the transformer station or the substation where metal is stolen, etc. And that then allows us to specifically design the waypoint flying for the patrols but also the randomization. Where these areas are that are then patrolled during the day and night. This is not a very good image. This is actually a really good video, also again, absolutely dark. And this is a person detected running along a road not realizing that the drone can actually see his every move. He eventually ran back up this road hid in the tree, came out, looked again. Actually, kind of clocked the drone so it was looking up the entire time. But because the drone was pursuing him, he obviously realized the drone could see him. But it gave us enough time to actually get the ground force in place to actually apprehend that person. So how does this help residential estates, and we talk about residential estates because that's what's targeted these days. It's opportunistic, it's, you know, of course, the farm murders. And, you know, very serious crime is of course, an issue. But this in the first instance, is where individuals will be protected. They’ve bought into a residential area that's meant to be keeping them safe. Now, I also want to point out that, of course, it's not a myth that millions of people in South Africa live in poorer areas where crime is just as high. And how do we protect them is another story. And that's where, hopefully, law enforcement and public safety agencies will hopefully, you know, adopt this technology more, but for now, we're talking about these residential estates. So, residents want to feel safe. They know that video footage can be used as evidence. So quite often, these criminals, you know, are able to break through a perimeter fence, steal something untoward. But still get away with it, even if there are courts, you know, what proof is there. So, bearing in mind data, privacy issues that we're all very familiar with, this footage is legally obtained. Its date stamped, it's geotagged, of course. And so, we can use that, for legal evidence. The response times are decreased. So, you know, in one incident, for example, there was a trigger alarm along an electric fence. This was before we started up patrols, and the security guards in the vehicle took half an hour to find where that actual fence was cut. So, by having eyes in the sky, and having a vantage point, we can clearly redirect or direct and pinpoint ground patrols. Again, as I said earlier on this is an additional layer of defence, it is not something that can be used in isolation. So, we can use it as a deterrent, we can use it as a tool to pursue, and we can also guide ground reaction force. And we've already talked, I've already talked about having the eyes in the sky with the thermal camera. And of course, in a security context, the human is the weakest link. So again, in the secure in the South African context, the security guards are often intimidated and threatened to perhaps in the most benign reaction, delay a response of a ground crew or give information. And with the drone, it's technology. So, they're more effective, they're more reliable.
And again, the way we talk about the effectiveness, if a drone can, although we don't fly 30 kilometres an hour, during night missions, but it can by patrol, fly that much and cover way more distance over a perimeter, for example, then a guard patrolling on foot at say, five kilometres an hour. Of course, the Guard has a torch, but maybe they're a six-foot tall. And so, this clearly gives a higher focus during high crime times from a different vantage point. We've also done some simple security stuff. For example, this is the aerial view of an exclusion zone for a building that was imploded, and the project team requested us to fly the perimeter to ensure that after the evacuation that taken place that no human activity was detected, and specifically on roofs etc. So, we worked very closely with this integrated security company, the demolition team, the disaster recovery management team, etc. And then of course, again, in a South African context where all the focus was on this imploding building. The expectation from local security and local police was that cars and you know, well cars would have been broken into etcetera. So, we did security patrols there. So, I did say that I was going to talk about the cost benefit equation here and how we secure our high value assets, while grappling with this cost equation and some of the challenges. So this is where, from a security surveillance perspective, clearly, we need to stay ahead of the criminal. And, of course, operating legally means that we have a lot of considerations. And where the criminal doesn't care about safety or regulations, we have to. So, if we just look to the right of my slide, and I won't talk to every single point. But essentially, safety is of utmost importance when we're operating a drone. And everything we talk about safety is about flying over people, property and public roads. So, we make absolutely sure during day and night operations, that that is, first and foremost, what we focus on. The regulations determine that where we have to operate at short notice in a crime situation, that is not our clients, that is not on site, where we've already taken all the permissions into account where we've already done our risk assessments, where we've already ensured privacy, etc. that there's a time delay. So, a good example, a few weeks ago, I got a frantic call from a local municipal councillor that said that in a bike park, or it was, I think it's kind of a game reserve where people can ride mountain bikes. A cyclist was stabbed I believe, and the bike was the bike was stolen. And they wanted us to come straight away to come and see whether we could identify from the air where these criminals were hiding because they were believed to be hiding under bushes, etc. And so of course, by procedure, we checked whether the site was, and that site was pretty much next door to a military airport. So, in controlled airspace. And so, there's no way as an operator, we could fly in controlled airspace without getting flexible use of airspace approval, filing a flight plan, and that would be most likely in the best possible way, take 24 hours. But you know, many times longer. So we couldn't help them.
So, from a regulation perspective, there is a time delay to really get response in in emergency situations. The privacy is an issue. And we have to work very closely with the homeowner’s association of these, these residential estates to ensure that all the residents are on board, that they don't think that we're spying on them, because that's exactly what human nature is, if there's a drone in the air, they think it's spying on them. And then, of course, where we want to pursue a criminal, we have a few challenges.
Notwithstanding the actual technology, so how far can your drone fly what's the hang time i.e. battery time, but also land owner permission I alluded to it earlier on. The criminal is not going to care where we have land owner permission or not so if they leg it, after they've been detected, over fences through property, over a national road etc. In circumstances where the operator does not have permission to fly over those areas, we cannot pursue further than where we already have obtained permission. Top over here. So, who pays this? So in the case where we want to secure a motorway for example, where from a land sorry, from a seaport to a Land Port, they are high value freights issues.
Kim James 30:10
We've already designed a safe corridor solution from an aerial surveillance perspective, protecting high value freight. Who pays for that security? So, is it the roads agencies? Is it the freight forwarders? Is it the insurance company? So that's a question we haven't answered yet. The cost of delivering the service is still very high. So, because it's regulated, to have to be manned, so there has to be a drone crew. On site, they have to be in control of that drone, even though we have automated flights for a lot of the missions. And the drones are also quite expensive. So of course, it's all about the sensor. So, the thermal camera, the high definition thermal camera, is often the most important, but in night operations specifically, the most expensive. And even though you would think that in a country with crime as high as we have, that individuals and organizations and government would pay to secure its residents, its citizens and residents and businesses, it's often unaffordable. And then, of course, we have the technology challenges, the hangtime, I alluded to that earlier on, we would like to stay in the air for longer than then we currently do to prevent the battery changing every now and again. Well not every now and again, apologies, regularly. Again, the drones are quite expensive. And also, the cost is driven by the fact that in 24-hour operations, the batteries and the drones do need to be replaced regularly. And then whether inclement weather does stop us flying. So, there's certain thresholds within which we can fly from a gust and wind perspective. And of course, we don't fly in heavy rain. But criminals operate and they come out to play during rain, because they know that security operations generally are reduced during those kind of inclement weather days. So, we don't have answers to many of these things. But where we are operating, we are seeing a reduction in crime for sure. And, and I will close off by saying that we believe the future is bright. We all know that drone technology is ploughing ahead. And when it comes to autonomous flight, when it comes to machine learning artificial intelligence, we are betting on the fact that you know the machine will alert the human as opposed to someone sitting in a control room where our drone video is streamed. Where a security guard is sitting monitoring a screen, the machine will alert that human when an intervention is required. And of course, that whole cyber physical world that we're moving to. So, I could continue talking. I think I've given you a good enough overview, I hope. I'm open to questions. And thank you so much for allowing me to share what we do.