Maybe you've seen one in a parking lot at Walmart, or outside the mall during the holidays. A keen-eyed television viewer might spot them among the crowd at the Super Bowl, or in Times Square on New Year's Eve.
SkyWatch towers, as they're known by the company that produces them, are mobile surveillance towers geared toward law enforcement and security groups, and are used by nearly 200 police departments around the country, including in Charlotte. They can be outfitted with all kinds of special features, like roof-mounted spotlights, a PA system, moveable cameras, even thermal imaging.
Charlotte resident Mark Blanco has seen them in parking lots around town and wanted to know more about them.
"I mean, it almost looks like a carnival ride or something," he says. "There's like a little box that goes up on a scissor jack maybe 20 feet or so in the air. And it looks like there could be somebody in it, but you don't know -- there's like, blacked-out windows. And I'm just curious what they are."
On this episode of FAQ City, we'll talk to an expert and get an in-depth look at the surveillance towers -- including how they began as a tool for handicapped hunters, why police departments have since adopted them, and if there's any way to know if they're effective.
Special thanks to Howard Schemer, with FLIR systems, for sharing his expertise, and to Mark for this week's question.
Also, we're on the lookout for more listener questions to investigate in upcoming episodes. What are you curious about? Send us your question through the box below, and we may be touch.
Editor's note: A version of this story originally aired in January 2019.