Officer and Agent safety is a top priority for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). As U.S Border Patrol Chief Ron Vitiello reported during a recent Congressional testimony, over the past year we’ve seen a 200 percent increase in incidents that include violence against an agent. One of the best ways we can protect our agents and officers and enable them to carry out their mission safely is to give them greater situational awareness.
Our Border Patrol Agents operate in harsh terrain under extreme physical conditions with backup oftentimes being miles away. We are always looking to stay at the forefront of improvements to technology to give our front line personnel more tools and capabilities, enabling them to make decisions that can protect both them and the individuals they interact with.
One way to enhance agent situational awareness is through the DHS Silicon Valley Innovation Program, working with our partners at DHS Science & Technology (S&T). One of our most successful initiatives under the program involves small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS).
SUAS have numerous promising applications in the commercial world – from inspecting critical infrastructure, supporting rescue efforts, and even delivering packages. Under this program, we have been looking for technologies that will help adapt SUAS platforms for use in the CBP, and specifically Border Patrol, missions such as new sensors, user interfaces for law enforcement officers, and cybersecurity for the SUAS platforms.
We have welcomed a number of companies to the program, each of them working to contribute potentially game-changing technology. A core offering of our Silicon Valley Innovation Program is to provide testing opportunities for startup companies in CBP operational areas.
I’m proud to announce that within the first Phase of their program with us, three of our Silicon Valley companies – Shield AI, Echodyne, and Goleta Star – have already performed initial data collection on the southwest border with the U.S. Border Patrol San Diego Sector team. These data collections and testing events will help refine the products they are developing for CBP, as well as produce valuable data for commercial applications. We look forward to giving more companies participating in the program opportunities for testing with CBP.
Finally, an important aspect of our engagement with the technology community has been providing companies a nimble, responsive team that works at the speed of startups. One of our biggest priorities is ensuring our staff can provide companies the attention they need to succeed. Due to the overwhelming interest in SUAS, we have announced that our SUAS funding opportunity will be closing early. This will enable us to focus on our current and pipeline awardees and ensure that we are providing companies the best experience possible.
We have received a number of proposals from quality companies who have applied for the program, and we view this interest – and the success of these companies thus far - as a sign of great things to come with respect to CBP and S&T’s collaborative efforts with the technology community.