FCC clears way for first responder use of military surveillance robots

Devices transmit video feeds back from dangerous settings

A battle over radio spectrum usage has ended with the Federal Communications Commission granting first responders continued access to the 420-450 MHz frequency band for reconnaissance robots, rejecting opposing arguments from ham radio operators.

The FCC originally granted ReconRobotics, provider of the Recon Scout robots that are also used by the military, access to the band for use by first responders in February 2010. American Radio Relay League (ARRL), representing amateur radio enthusiasts, however, opposed the order on the grounds that it would cause interference with other services and was not in the public’s best interest. Although ham radio operators use the 420-450 MHz frequency band, it is primarily used by the federal radio location service.

The FCC, in its response April 13, upheld its initial decision, adding a few limitations in response to ARRL’s petition.

Related coverage:

First responders want control of public safety spectrum

“The bureaus held that grant of the request would be in the public interest because it would improve officer safety in many high-risk situations with a likelihood of death or serious harm. They acknowledged commenters’ concerns that interference to the Recon Scout from higher power sources could impair its reliability, but concluded that the possibility of such interference in some instances was not a reason to prohibit its use in all instances,” stated the FCC in its response.

Specifically, the FCC limited the number of robots that could be sold in the first two years, the bandwidth the devices could operate on, labeling and usage. Only state and local police and firefighters and security personnel in critical infrastructure industries can use the robots, and only for actual emergencies and related training.

The devices cannot be used near certain federal radio location sites, including radar installations and Air Force bases, and must state on the label and in the manual that they could cause interference.

Additionally, the FCC limited the number of devices that could be sold to 2,000 in the first year and 8,000 the second, with a re-evaluation of sales numbers after that time, reported Government Technology. The first units sold to an organization must operate on 436 MHz to 442 MHz. The 442 HMz to 448 MHz version can only be sold to entities that already own the 436-to-442 MHz version; and the 430-to-436 MHz version can only be sold to entities that own the other two versions.

Recon Scout is a maneuverable surveillance robot, designed for use in areas that may be too hazardous for humans, that transmits live video feeds back to the operator. Remotely controlled, it can be thrown, dropped or launched into dangerous areas.

Several state and local agencies, including the police departments of Marietta, Ga., and Des Plaines, Ill., as well as the military, already own and use the robots.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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