The next frontier in emergency response: Drones?

“Just knowing what’s going on inside a house that we would go into cold — [we could] potentially save officers’ lives and victims’ lives,” Phil Mancini, a detective on the Roseville police desk, told NBC News. Mancini has been advising a group at Carnegie Mellon University that is building a swarm of cheap, small flying helicopters that could come to the aid of officers across the country who find themselves facing off against suspects they can’t always see.

A crew of ten rotors would move and think one, as if a single robot was “chopped into pieces with a knife,” said Pei Zhang, associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon. Technology being developed at Zhang’s lab will allow tens of robots to explore different parts of a new environment and make sense of the information they each collect.

“I can see the thing deployed almost on every call, every type of EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) or SWAT call,” Pat Zeri, the bomb squad commander at Roseville in charge of the robots. His ground robots are useful, sure, but they’re slow to get moving, and if the robot has a problem, “there’s a 900 pound block of metal for the SWAT team to negotiate around.”