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Liverpool police get mini-Black Helicopter

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The era of Robocop - and perhaps of the surveillance society - came a step nearer today with the announcement that Merseyside plods have started trialling a flying police robot.

The scally sky-patrolman, unlike military kill-bots such as the US Reaper, isn't intended for any active role. It is purely an observation platform, mounting CCTV with a range of imaging options.

The Scouse law-enforcers' eye in the sky is the "hicam microdrone", a German battery-powered quad-rotor helicopter which weighs less than 1kg and is less than 1 metre in diameter, according to reports. The diminutive cyber-copter can apparently stay up for 20 minutes per battery charge and its UK distributors say that it is capable of "immediate deployment from car/dog van/other." YouTube footage is available here.

The microdrone apparently has a highly capable autopilot, making it much easier to fly than a normal remote-control helicopter.

A spokesman for the machine's UK distributor said "it is pretty much forward, back, left, right and record". Apparently, the microdrone is exempt from air-traffic restrictions in much the same way toy aircraft are. The autopilot can navigate GPS waypoints or hover autonomously, and is also capable of landing itself if the control signal is lost.

The flying robo-constable is also "almost silent" in use, and "allows entirely covert operation".

The UK distributor spokesman said the aircraft are "military derived...obviously I can't talk too much about that particular use...they are essentially reconnaissance tools."

Since the microdrone isn't listed among those used by the regular UK military, this might indicate that the British special forces have taken an interest in the diminutive stealth-chopper, perhaps in a counter-terrorism role. This would fit in with the Merseyside plods' reported plans to test it in firearms operations, as well as for more mundane tasks such as monitoring traffic congestion and crowds.

According to the Guardian, the spy drone will also "track criminals and record anti-social behaviour".

Given the aircraft's attributes, conspiracy theorists will be pleased to note that it seems to be available in just one colour: black. ®

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