OGDEN — Come this spring, residents of Ogden will have something new watching over them — a remote controlled blimp equipped with day and night vision cameras.
The city of Ogden is ready to add this surveillance tool to its police department.
Law enforcement agencies across the country use manned helicopters to patrol the streets, but at a high cost.
Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey and Police Chief Jon Greiner have worked with Weber State University to find a cheaper alternative.
Ogden police will most likely become the first agency to have a blimp on its force, according to Bradley Stringer, executive director of the Utah Center for Aeronautical Innovation and Design at WSU.
"It provides a very viable, low-cost alternative for them in effect to put a patrolman in the sky," Stringer said. "We can put day or night vision cameras on this device. It can fly around a pre-programmed route or (be) retasked midflight if necessary to respond to a crime or natural disaster."
"It can do so much more", Godfrey said. "It can cover so much more ground with such tremendous precision. Much more effective than a person on the ground can have."
The blimp will be filled with helium. It's 52 feet long and 4 feet wide. It's fast and can turn on a dime. The two cameras on board can send video real time to officers on the ground.
The concept isn't new. The military has been using remote controlled vehicles for years on the battlefield. But advancements in technology have made the necessary equipment smaller, lighter and a lot cheaper.
Ogden approached UCAID only about three months ago to discuss the idea of designing a remote controlled device for police use. The mayor presented the proposal to the City Council this week, and should it ultimately be approved, the blimp will be patrolling the skies in Ogden by this spring.
The cost of a blimp, with the necessary equipment, is about the same as a well equipped full sized police vehicle, Stringer said.
Godfrey expects other law enforcement agencies will be paying close attention to how the blimp works in Ogden.
"The price points that we've been discussing are so attractive that I imagine that if this works they way we all expect it will, this will be something that will be deployed in many, if not all police departments around the country."
Now the city has to come up with a catchy name.
"Yeah," the mayor said. "We're looking for a really attractive name. We kind of like U-A-V, the abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicles. That tends to conger up a more attractive mental image, than if you call it a blimp!"