Medium - How a Drone Helped the Tokyo Police Ensure All Runners Safely Reach the Finish Line @ the Tokyo Marathon

Last night, I watched a live stream of the finish line from the 2016 Tokyo Marathon. I didn’t know a single runner, had never closely followed this event and sadly have never personally completed a marathon. I watched because it was the first time a drone would be streaming video of the finish line as part of an enhanced high-tech security effort from the Tokyo Police.

In full (and proud) disclosure, I’m a small contributor to CyPhy Works, the team that was partnering with @MotPublicSafety to help the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) secure the finish line. I’ve been following the efforts taken by the MPD for a few months and have been simply amazed by their efforts to address the security risks for Japan’s largest marathon.

On December 10, the MPD made global headlines with announcement of “The Interceptor Drones. According to the MPD, in case a suspicious drone is spotted, police officers will first track down the device’s operator and warn them to halt the flight. If the officers fail to find the operator near the scene, or the flight continues despite the warning, they will scramble an interceptor drone to catch the suspicious counterpart mid-air.

On January 17, 2016, Tokyo Marathon officials held a security seminar to conduct advanced training in detection and counter-measures.

Bomb detection & disposal, trained canines & swat teams are standard operating fare for an event like this. But seeing how they used drones to protect the runners, patrons and law enforcement team members was an epic accomplishment. Here’s why:

The Threat Is Real — Security at large sporting events and gatherings in 2016 is a growing issue and an incredibly complex challenge. Suicide bombs, active shooters and lone wolfs are an unfortunate reality of life today and sadly high profile events like this marathon will forever attract global threats. I’m hopeful that the International Centre for Sport Security was watching this shining example of the future of law enforcement and that no future generation will have experience the nightmare that was the Boston Marathon bombing.

Policing The Marathon Route With Actionable Data — The police department had 90 officers running alongside the competitors, up 26 from the previous year’s race in which police officers ran alongside racers for the first time. If there was any type of attack or incident during the race, speed and response times would be critical. By having the secure feed from the drone in place, it enables real time access to the data (coming from the drone system) for everyone in the operation simultaneously; so first responders in the race could get the information as it is happening, at the same time as the dispatchers and commanders. First responders need that information in the field to make smarter decisions and better protect themselves, because advanced voice and data communications serve as their lifeline and a source of mission critical intelligence.

A Marathon Drone for Marathon Security — Anyone who has flown a UAV has experienced the unique stress that battery life causes. The battery restrictions are a major reason why drones are not already part of every law enforcement unit. As this was a security scenario, it’s simply not acceptable for the drone to land and swap batteries. Last night, I watched the PARC drone fly for over 2 hours while it delivered a secure HD feed to the MPD. Unlike every other drone on the market, PARC is the only persistent drone that can stay aloft indefinitely (it’s a tethered system.)

It was also personally special to watch this all happen because of what the finish line represents. I attended college in Boston, worked on the Boston Herald’s Marathon team and have attended countless Boston Marathons. The finish line is the training and dedication of the runners, the year-round sweat of the organizers, the life-on-the-line commitment from the first responders and public safety personnel all bundled into one special package. To see it protected with this thoughtful approach respects the tradition of the event.
In case you think this is all science fiction, it’s not. This exact technology pairing was being demonstrated at a Law Enforcement tradeshow way back in 2014 when I first joined CyPhy. This Vine from Motorola Solutions shows how the video feed from the CyPhy drone can be shown right on the wrist of a first responder using wearables like smart watches. To see it go live last night was amazing and kudos to the MPD for having the vision/gumption to take it from tradeshow to Tokyo.

Watch some of the footage here:

Blog entry reposted with permission of the author.