Drones can offer an eye-in-the-sky to protect students.

Using Drones to Enhance Campus Safety

Design forecast by Pushstart Creative

Campus security is a huge priority for universities, which spend millions each year on staff, equipment and education to keep students safe. In 2013, 27,600 criminal incidents were reported on U.S. college campuses. First- and second-year students, in a new environment and away from parents for the first time, are more vulnerable, particularly when it comes to sexual assaults.

Even with precautions and systems in place, tragedies happen.

In 2016, freshman Haruka Weiser was sexually assaulted and murdered as she walked back to her dorm alone after an evening dance class at the University of Texas at Austin. After the murder, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) conducted a campus-wide audit that recommended adding additional police officers and security guards, upgrading the campus-wide video system, improving lighting and restricting access to buildings. DPS Director Steven C. McCraw also urged the University to “collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to address evolving safety and security risks and threats.”

So, what does that collaboration look like?

Many schools already offer walking groups, safe rides and buddy services for students leaving libraries or classrooms after dark, but these solutions rely on limited human resources. Most campuses also have blue light phones with direct access to campus security — designed for a pre-mobile phone world, they’re helpful only if a callbox is nearby (and working).

Lately, there’s been a deluge of smartphone safety apps and wearables that record video and alert police, emergency contacts or a monitoring service with the user’s GPS location. While these solutions show promise, they require the user to sense a threat and trigger the alert, rather than acting as a deterrent to stop crime in the first place. In fact, smartphone use has been shown to distract users from noticing their environments and attract thieves.

Pushstart has a new idea.

What if there was a solution that not only recorded video and called police, but actually discouraged nighttime crimes in the first place? Our proposal is to create a system of autonomous drones that accompany students and employees to destinations within the campus area.

Here’s how it works.

After a brief training via app or kiosk, users can activate the drones in multiple ways:

  • By smartphone app
  • Via kiosks at building exits
  • Using voice activation through posts on campus
  • Remote operation by campus security for patrol and emergencies

Once a drone is called, it joins the user and accompanies him or her safely to the destination. When necessary, drones can also wait with students, perhaps at a bus stop or for a ride. With a friendly circular form to guard rotors and protect from accidents, the drone is visible only as a glowing halo light that illuminates the path and serves as a deterrent for criminals.

When duties are complete, drones autonomously find their way back to charging stations located high on campus safety stations that replace existing blue light posts. The height prevents theft and allows the drones to provide extra lighting and camera surveillance. Drones can also notify campus security of emergency situations, and security officials can take control of drones as necessary.

Let’s talk specs

Drones are equipped with efficient LED lights, a wide-angle camera, a microphone and a speaker for voice activation. Similar to the follow-me drones used for cinematography, they can follow students using a image tracking cameras or link to the companion smartphone app.

Currently, the most advanced drones can fly up to 25 minutes once fully charged. If a walk requires a longer timeframe, a new drone can show up to take over while the initial drone goes back to charge. False calls and pranks are easily identified, since drone use is linked to student and employee IDs. Also, the relative ease of creating a strong data infrastructure in a controlled college campus makes it an ideal location for pilot projects.

The power of a thousand “little brothers”

While drones have had some negative public perception because of their surveillance capabilities, in this case they are used only on demand to provide users with a direct link to campus security. Improving safety conditions at college campuses can help avoid criminal incidents and create a more positive campus environment. Drones serve as an extension of campus security, reducing their workload and expanding their reach. Universities’ aerospace, computer science and geography programs could be involved to improve upon the platform internally. In the future, this model could be used in other environments such as company campuses, resorts and downtowns.

Can Pushstart help you design and implement innovative safety solutions utilizing drones or other technology? Let’s collaborate!

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Check out our latest projects at pushstartcreative.com and follow us on Twitter @pushstartcreate. Thanks for reading.

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