Saviors in the sky: Savannah man turning drones into disaster lifesavers


LOCAL COMPANY HELPED MILITARY WITH PACIFIC NORTHWEST DISASTER EXERCISE

Craig Davidenko and his friends have a vision: People stranded out in the open, looking up to see their saving grace.

Their salvation? A drone hovering above, relaying their location to first responders and dropping first aid supplies.

And it’s a dream that’s fast becoming a reality for the Savannah entrepreneur and his Texas partners. Davidenko’s company, Drone Media, has partnered with an Austin, Texas, firm called Astral AR to equip small, unmanned aerial vehicles with potentially lifesaving capabilities.

Predictions that drones will be used for emergency relief have been floating around for a couple of years, and last year researchers from Lone Star UAS Center at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, flew drones to help search and recovery efforts after severe flooding and storms killed more than a dozen people in Oklahoma and Texas. But Drone Media and Astral AR want to take it a step further and develop partnerships with militaries and other government entities to use drones for relief rather than warfare.

Last month, Davidenko lent a hand to soldiers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a disaster-relief exercise near Seattle.

During the event, called Cascadia Rising, Davidenko used the technology to scan the sky for soldiers and other rescue workers who were simulating a response to a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest city.

Leah LaSalla, Astral AR’s founder and CEO, said their prototypes were even granted a rare honor in the unmanned aerial systems community.

“We were given permission to share airspace with the Black Hawks,” she said, referring to the military transport helicopters.

The application is a far cry from the traditional depiction of drones being used by the military to launch missiles.

“It shows the future of where things are going even though a lot of the media hype has been negative,” Davidenko said.

His idea has a good bit of traction. In August, he’ll be one of the featured speakers at the UAV Summit in Shenzen, China, near Hong Kong.

Right now, the prototype Drone Media and Astral AR are working with can fly 130 mph.

“What we’ve come up with is a fleet of of drones that is able to swarm a search-and-rescue area,” Davidenko said. “Once they get out there, they’re using biometrics, they’re using air-quality sniffers, they’re using the ability to create a 3-D picture.”

And they can call in the cavalry.

“If one finds a survivor, it can contact other drones and they can swarm the area and look for other survivors,” he said. “We are able to carry a small payload, so we can drop a first aid kit if need to and alert other emergency personnel within the area. At the same time we’re doing that, we’re real-time streaming data.”

Astral AR develops drone-piloting systems with an eye on augmented reality — think putting on goggles and using your eye and body movement to control flight.

“It sounds too good to be true,” LaSalla said. “People don’t believe.”

But it is.

Astral AR and Drone Media are developing what they’re calling “Annie fleets.” The drone fleets are designed for continuous paroling of remote areas, especially the open ocean.

That could be useful for keeping an eye out in channels commonly used by refugees. Sensors would be set up to detect humans, and the drones would be able to drop a raft to survivors and follow them until help arrives, projecting images the whole time.

“They can distinguish the difference between a log bobbing around and a living person,” LaSalla said. “They’re a patrolling, long-range fleet drone.”

Other applications could include helping firefighters both in wildfires and more urban environments.

“We are able to send this drone into a burning building, if you will, and it can take 3-D imagery and give an instantaneous diagnostic relay of what shape the building is in, so human risk is put at a minimum,” Davidenko said.

LaSalla added drones can be used for simpler tasks, too, like minor maintenance on a skyscraper.

“The problem with drones is they don’t really do anything,” she said. “Our drones do.”

Amy Kohler Hudnall, the director of the state Center of Innovation for Aerospace, says that’s the way of the future.

Right now, there are more than 100 businesses in Georgia that have obtained authorization from the Federal Aviation to use unmanned aerial systems. That’s a number Hudnall expects to grow as federal restrictions ease and more opportunities arise. Other commercial applications include monitoring fields used for agriculture, real estate, aeronautical research and film.

“There are a lot of applications for this technology, and I think that’s just going to continue to grow as it gets easier to operate the drones,” Hudnall said.

Davidenko, a former Realtor, says he started Drone Media in 2014 after he got into aerial photography and video. He saw the use of drones as one of the biggest advances in technology since the advent of the internet. And now, with federal restrictions on personal and commercial drone are starting to loosen, he says he and partner Astral are poised to be at the forefront of expansion.

“It’s going to come full circle pretty quick,” Davidenko said.

LEARN MORE

To learn more about Drone Media, Astral AR and the Annie fleets, go to www.dronemedia.com and www.astralar.com.

ORIGINAL LINK: CLICK HERE 

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