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Amazon wants police officers to have a tiny ‘assistant drone’ on their shoulder

As Amazon presses on with its plan to one day send package-carrying drones on delivery runs to customers, a recently awarded patent has revealed it also has an idea to utilize its UAV technology in other ways.

Described as an “unmanned aerial vehicle assistant,” the miniature quadcopter dreamed up by Amazon engineers would sit on the shoulders of law enforcers until called into action. You read that right, we’re talking shoulder drones for cops.

But before you roll your eyes at the idea and sigh so loudly that someone close by asks you what’s up, let’s take a closer look at what Amazon – a company admittedly better known for online shopping and consumer tech gear than gadgets for police officers – has in mind.

The patent explains that the camera-equipped drone, which would be voice-activated for ease of use, could enable an officer to assess a location or specific object in greater detail – and from a safe distance – by hovering over and around it, streaming live video back to the cop so he or she can make a more informed judgment on how to proceed.

It’s also suggested the the palm-sized flying machine could provide “enhanced support for police during routine traffic stops,” gathering data before returning to the cop’s shoulder to reconnect with its charging station.

The diminutive drone could be used to track down a lost child in a crowd, too, or a specific vehicle in a parking lot. It should even be able to track a suspect fleeing on foot, or, depending on the camera’s capabilities, be used to identify developing incidents such as early-stage fires.

Related: Firefighting drones will soon fly over New York City

While the idea of cops with mini-drones may not sound anywhere near as alarming as cops with taser-equipped quadcopters, Amazon’s idea has nevertheless caught the attention of Shankar Narayan, the technology and liberty project director for the American Civil Liberties Union in the company’s home city of Seattle. He’s concerned not only that the drones could be so small they may be able to collect information without a suspect’s knowledge, but also that they could incorporate facial-recognition software to help police ID suspects.

“We want to make sure the use of this technology doesn’t turn into an open fishing expedition” just because modern technology makes it possible, Narayan commented.

As always, it should be noted that at this stage it’s merely a patent and not on any Amazon roadmap (that we know of). Still, it’s interesting to see what kinds of ideas are popping into the minds of the people who could one day make them a reality.

The patent was filed last year before being granted by the Unites States Patent and Trademark Office in October.