Hand-Sized Drone. Militarysystems-tech.com photo

Worldwide, Drones Are Being Used to Sneak Contraband Into Prisons

And that’s not the only robotic delivery

Turns out Amazon founder Jeff Bezos wasn’t the first one to think about using drones to deliver fun stuff directly to your door. Convicts have been doing it for years.

Hull jail in the city of Gatineau in Quebec is ratcheting up security after a small drone dropped a package inside its walls last week.

“The problem is, the drone can be controlled from more than a kilometer away, and the prison is surrounded by forest,” Stephane Lemaire, president of Quebec’s correctional officers’ union, said to the Ottawa Sun.

Lemaire is urging the Canadian government to supply prisons in the area with nets or jammers to disrupt remote control signals to nearby unmanned aerial vehicles. “This sort of thing happens often in prisons all across Quebec,” he added.

As toy helicopters become cheaper and steadier, prisons are trying to cope with the growing security problem.

Last month four men in Morgan, Georgia were arrested in connection with a bungled air-smuggle after a corrections officer from Calhoun State Prison noticed a six-rotor “hexa-copter” flying above the prison yard.

Canvassing the area, local police found a black Dodge containing the helicopter along with a remote control, a pair of binoculars presumably used to watch the aircraft from afar and around two pounds of tobacco wrapped in plastic bundles.

Hexacopter used to smuggle tobacco in Morgan, Georgia. Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department photo

But it’s not just traffickers in the North America that are using the copters to hook their friends up in jail. The same thing already happened on three other continents.

In 2011, a remote-controlled helicopter crashed near a prison in Ratchaburi, Thailand while carrying $84,000 worth of goods including a cache of satellite phones, SIM cards, batteries and small LCD screens. The items were sealed in a shockproof box and fixed under the helicopter’s fuselage when police came across the crash site.

Earlier that year, authorities foiled a plot to sneak some 700 grams of heroin into the Tula region of Russia, south of Moscow, using a drone copter. Young Roma—gypsies—in the area had organized the drug ring and launched their flying device from the FC Arsenal Tula’s football stadium.

The plan allegedly was to dangle the drugs from a rope near the window of an inmate, but the copter and its team was apprehended before a successful hand-off could occur.

In Brazil, smugglers started out training pigeons to drop payloads into maximum security facilities, but seemed to switch over to robot helicopters around 2009.

And then there was the instance in Kent, England where guards at Elmley Prison witnessed a small helicopter buzzing above the Category C section of the jail—but couldn’t do anything about it. The copter swiftly flew away along with its small package. The identity of the flier is still unknown.

In his interview on 60 Minutes last night, Bezos said that his Amazon Prime octo-copter delivery system could be functional in four to five years, given the necessary permissions from the Federal Aviation Administration. China, however, has thrown caution and regulation to the wind and joined criminals in the aerial delivery market.

The FAA isn’t required to set commercial drone rules until 2015, but Chinese media reports that SF Express, a Shenzhen-based logistics company, is already testing drone-delivery techniques. And a Shanghai bakery launched an aerial cake-delivery service earlier this year.

Why? Because in China, permission to fly drones is granted by the local aviation authorities rather than a federal agency, as is the case in the U.S.

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