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FCC OKs Police, Fire Units Use of ‘Recon Scout’ Robot

The small robot, resembling a weightlifter’s dumbbell, has been successfully used in Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. military

The U.S. government has again approved local police and fire department use of a surveillance robot that transmits video over a frequency traditionally assigned for amateur radio transmissions.

On Feb. 6, 2012 the Federal Communications Commission issued an order approving the use of a small surveillance robot called “Recon Scout” for “public safety purposes.” The Recon Scout—produced by ReconRobotics Inc.—is a small robot resembling a weightlifter’s dumbbell that the U.S. military has successfully used in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The robot is used by troops that are faced with entering dangerous areas and need to know what is going on in a structure or “on the other side of a wall,” Jack Klobucar, ReconRobotics’ director of marketing told Government Video. Those troops can throw the Recon Scout into such situations, and the robot will transmit video—in the 420-450 MHz band—back to the unit, Klobucar said.

Since 2008, U.S. police and fire departments have sought to obtain the level of situational awareness the Recon Scout provides, but the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), an association of amateur radio operators, has opposed use of the robot because the 410-450 MHz band is allocated to the Federal Radiolocation service on a primary basis, and to amateur operators.

In 2008 ReconRobotics sought a waiver of the FCC’s regulation to permit the Recon Scout to operate in that band, and allow public safety organizations to obtain licenses to use the robot. However, the ARRL has maintained its opposition to the use of the Recon Scout saying the robot’s video transmission is on the band allocated to amateur radio operators and the transmissions would interfere with the amateur’s operations. The ARRL later added that amateurs would be blamed for any interference caused to the Recon Scout during emergency police and fire activity.

Nonetheless, the FCC has ruled in favor of allowing police and fire departments to use the robot, but within set guidelines. Those guidelines are:

Licensing eligibility is limited to state and local police and firefighters.

When applying for authorization to operate the Recon Scout, the FCC Waiver Order DA 10-291 must be referenced in the application, as well as the specific proposal area of operation and the frequency segment.

The Recon Scout may only be used during emergencies involving threats to safety of life and for necessary training related to such operations.

Training operations will not occur with 30 kilometer of certain federal radiolocation sites.

The Recon Scout can only be operated on a secondary basis (cannot cause interference, and is not protected from interference) to all federal users and licensed non-federal users.

Licensees must maintain a log of all Recon Scout use.

The ARRL can appeal the decision to the full commission, or it can file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, but it has not said if it will proceed with further action.