Autonomous Paladin Drones for 9-1-1 Response
By Jim Magill
Every second counts when a police or fire station receives a 9-1-1 call. Still, first responders often waste valuable time figuring out the extent and even the exact location of an emergency situation before having to dispatch resources to deal with that situation.
Paladin Drones, a small startup based in Houston, offers a solution that dispatches an autonomously powered drone that can fly to the disaster site in seconds. At the scene, the unmanned aerial vehicle can send overhead images of the scene to a control center and the first responders on the way to the scene – all without a human pilot having to intervene.
The company recently announced the release of its proprietary Knighthawk drone and Watchtower software package, which taken together can give first responders a sky-high glimpse of emergency locations.
“We have developed a comprehensive suite of platforms, hardware, software, training and regulations all packed into one package that gives first responders a live view of an emergency before they arrive,” said Paladin CEO and co-founder Divy Shrivastava said in an interview.
Founded in 2018, the company currently looks after two agencies: the Orange Township Fire Department, Ohio, and the Memorial Villages Police Department in Texas. Memorial Villages PD serves the villages of Bunker Hill, Piney Point, and Hunters Creek, three small towns in western Houston.
Both agencies have Federal Aviation Administration certificates that allow them to fly drones beyond Line of Sight (BVLOS), an integral part of Paladin’s strategy. To date, the Paladin system has recorded more than 1,600 missions and responded to emergency situations such as building fires, car break-ins and vehicle accidents.
The Knighthawk is equipped with proprietary communications technology that company data says prevents the drone from ever getting out of range, even in dense, urban environments. The drone is equipped with two cameras, a 10x zoom and a thermal imaging camera, which means it can take pictures day and night. The UAV has a flight time of more than 55 minutes with a payload.
On the way to the emergency, the drone flies at an altitude of 200 feet with the camera pointed at the horizon to prevent it from taking pictures unrelated to the emergency. After arriving at the scene, the camera is pointed downwards so that the drone can record and transmit images of the emergency site.
Paladin’s Watchtower software is an all-in-one application that enables any first responder to use the Knighthawk with a single tap, view its live video feed from anywhere in the world, flight, video and Maintain equipment records and notify users if any Part of the drone needs servicing. When an emergency call comes in, Watchtower automatically dispatches Knighthawk to the scene, notifies the department of the status of the drone and sends its video feed to anyone who needs it with just half a second of latency.
When the mission is complete, Watchtower automatically uploads the mission logs, video footage and flight information for the department to review and download at any time.
A one stop shop
Shrivastava said Paladin hopes to become a single point of contact for first responders across the country who want to start their own drone program but face serious challenges with it.
“When an agency wants to start a drone program … they have to get the drones first by finding a vendor to provide the hardware. Then they have to find some kind of software to manage their equipment, ”he said. “Then they have to go through the FAA to make sure they are fully compliant with FAA regulations. This is very difficult for a department that is already very resource-intensive. “
Added to this are the costs of training people to fly drones and maintaining the vehicle.
To address these issues, Paladin provides the hardware, software, training, and helps first responders acquire the BVLOS certification required to perform autonomous flights. “We’re here to help departments safely create autonomous drone programs that have been embedded by other agencies across the country.”
Need for Improved Situation Awareness: Drones for 9-1-1 Response
Shrivastava said the idea of using software-based drones to give first responders better situational awareness of emergency scenes came to him in 2016 while he was still completing his high school education. That year, his neighbors’ house burned down while on vacation.
While no one was injured in the incident, Shrivastava wondered what could have been done to help the firefighters save his neighbors’ home. He said he spoke to the fire chief who Shrivastava said firefighters often do not get accurate information about disasters from 9-1-1 callers, especially regarding the location of an emergency.
“If someone calls 9-1-1, they panic,” he said. “About 70% of the cases in which first aiders go out do not know the location – not exactly.”
While studying in Berkeley, Calif., Shrivastava said he continued to seek ways to provide firefighters and other first responders with timely, accurate data on emergency situations.
“I’ve spoken to as many firefighters in the Bay Area as possible. They pretty much had the same complaint. They said they almost never have situational awareness of an emergency before they arrive, ”he said.
As a drone hobbyist with some knowledge of computer coding, Shrivastava began working on a side project aimed at developing a drone-oriented solution to the first responder dilemma. He left school to work full-time on the project and co-founded Paladin Drones in 2018.
The young company received its initial funding from Y Combinator, a startup accelerator that provides young tech companies with seed capital that has the potential to drive economic paradigm shifts. Other successful companies funded by Y Combinator include Airbnb, DoorDash, Coinbase, Instacart, Dropbox, Twitch, and Reddit.
Paladin later completed an investment round that raised $ 1.3 million in seed capital with the participation of Khosla Ventures and Paul Buchheit, creator of Gmail.
Shrivastava said that although Paladin started a software company, it is now developing its own purpose-built drones. “I didn’t really feel like getting into the hardware, but there was simply no solution that would allow fully autonomous flight beyond the site’s line of sight and maintain communication. In the end, that’s why we built our own (drone) technology, ”he said.
Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with nearly a quarter of a century of experience relating to technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring as Senior Editor at S&P Global Platts in December 2019, Jim began writing about new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robots, and drones and their contribution to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has been published in the Houston Chronicle, US News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, an Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International publication.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.
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