Coast Guard cadets test feasibility of using drones in the war on drugs

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NEW LONDON -- The Coast Guard had an historic 2015 in terms of drug busts. Now, a drone project some cadets are working on could help yield even better results in the near future.

Each year senior cadets engage in a capstone project that helps address a problem the Coast Guard faces. One of the issues is finding the best way to incapacitate drug-running boats.

“So they charged the cadets, the senior cadets, to come up with some method, using nonlethal force, to stop the individuals,” said Commander Hans Govertsen, a Coast Guard Academy mechanical engineering instructor.

The cadets equipped a high speed drone with pepper spray, with the goal of disabling the occupants of the drug boats.

“We have our pepper spray canister here,” said Jack Emmons, Coast Guard cadet. “It's pressurized to 100 psi. This valve is controlled by the remote. When it's opened the pepper spray is sent through this nozzle.”

“We weren't sure what we needed or how we could get something that would be launched out of possibly a helicopter and be able to survive all the rotor wash,” Park Suski, a Coast Guard cadet.

To get eyes on their target from the air, miniature cameras will be mounted on board.

“This camera is fitted looking directly down the sites of our nozzle so we can see our target as we pull the trigger,” said Emmons.

Next week, the cadets will head to Cape Cod to do testing outdoors for the first time.

“What our plan is to have a truck with some kind of target in the bed of the truck and have the drone try to follow the truck and spray just simulating it flying over the water,” Tara Larkin, a Coast Guard cadet.

April 28 the group makes its final presentation to Coast Guard leadership, who will determine if this project will move on for further research and development.

Before deciding to commit to the pepper spray, these cadets investigated numerous other methods, including casting nets over the entire boat and even employing a sound emitting device that would cause the drug runners to become queasy.