San Diego Business Journal

People requesting police assistance in Chula Vista may soon spy drones surveilling their situation before officers arrive.

A Redwood City-based company called Cape will be working with the Chula Vista Police Department to integrate drones into its crime prevention and incident response efforts as part of a pilot program awarded May 9 to the city of San Diego and its government and corporate partners.

San Diego was one of 10 governments selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation to participate in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program. The federal agency said it received 149 proposals for the program, which was announced in October.

The White House-sponsored initiative links the government agencies, which are in turn partnered with private sector participants, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is looking to explore the further integration of drone operations.

“Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace,” Treasury Secretary Elaine Chao said during a speech in Washington D.C. during which she revealed the awardees.

Cape's technology, a cloud-based system for managing drones and the data the systems collect, allows first responders an early look at potential emergency situations. Cape, which has performed more than 100,000 drone flights globally, is one of fewer than two dozen companies to which the FAA has granted a waiver allowing it to operate drones remotely and beyond the visual line of sight.

Kabe Termes, director of operations at Cape, said the company plans to hire full-time workers in San Diego to support its work with the department once the details of the operations are determined.

The pilot program is intended to test how to best integrate drones into airspace, and to provide stability to drone owners and the drone industry, as well as communities in which drones are slated to be deployed, according to the DOT and FAA. According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), an advocacy group for unmanned systems and robotics, integrating such systems into U.S. airspace could create 100,000 jobs and contribute $82 billion to the economy.

The city of San Diego's application, with support from the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., was backed by the Port of San Diego, city of Chula Vista, UC San Diego Health, Governors Military Council, Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Palomar Community College, Coleman University and AUVSI.

In addition to Cape, companies involved in the program include Qualcomm, AT&T, Uber, Intel, GE, Matternet and AirMap.

The city's proposal, according to the FAA, focused on border protection and food delivery, as well as international commerce, "smart city"/autonomous vehicle interoperability and surveillance.

In addition to the city of San Diego, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; the Virginia Tech Center for Innovative Technology; the Kansas Department of Transportation; the Lee County Mosquito Control District in Ft. Myers, Florida; Tennessee's Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority; the North Carolina Department of Transportation; the North Dakota Department of Transportation; the city of Reno; and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks were also selected.

“The enthusiastic response to our request for applications demonstrated the many innovative technological and operational solutions already on the horizon,” Chao said.

Now the selected agencies and their partners will work with the FAA to define their responsibilities, operations and data-sharing requirements under the pilot program, which is slated to take place over the next two and a half years.

The DOT and FAA say data gathered through the program will play a role in the crafting of new, more sophisticated regulations related to unmanned flights.

Reach reporter Sarah de Crescenzo at