Drone army seeks to redefine 'neighborhood watch'

Drone army seeks to redefine 'neighborhood watch'
(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

DESOTO COUNTY, MS (WMC) - You might expect to find an army in DeSoto County ... an army of drones, that is. A Southaven man has an army of hand-crafted drones, all controlled from inside of his customized command center.

Robert Estes is self-confessed country boy.

"They probably think I am some type of redneck, country boy, and don't realize the extent we go to," Estes said.

But despite humble beginnings, Estes established his own business and built what he says is the first drone command center in the country.

"This will make a change in the drone industry," he said.

Estes built drones that provide infrared thermal imaging; they also detect human movement inside of a home or car. And what he is doing is legal.

"You can do good things with this, or you can do bad things with this," Estes acknowledged.

Estes wrote letters to the Federal Aviation Administration about his drone capabilities. Right now, the FAA requires personal users of drones to fly under 400 feet, but Estes says he can fly thousands of feet higher.

Some of his neighbors worry what this technology could do if it is placed in the wrong hands.

"I don't need someone looking inside my house," said Dorothy Murray, who is a mother of six. "It's an invasion of my privacy."

But Estes says he is not an outlaw. He's flown drones for missing person's cases, bridge inspections, emergency training, even international police agencies.

"If you were looking for a missing person in a 100 acre field, you could pull up Google Earth and grid that 100 acre field," he explained.

Some people can see the good in access to this technology.

"I think that it could be a real good thing," said Hazel Myers.

"If you had a missing child, I can assure you that you would want something like this looking for them," Estes added.

For years, Estes has written letters to the FAA, but he has not received much more than an automated response. He hopes when authorities actually see what he's created, he'll be on their radar, good or bad.

Currently, the FAA faces multiple lawsuits from hobbyists and commercial drone companies who say its rules are too strict.

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