With help of drone cameras, Aerial Applications ready to aid first responders with maps, real-time video
Photos and videos shot by cameras mounted on aerial drones can provide responders with valuable insights about their surroundings, but software company Aerial Applications adds mapping and 3D modeling solutions to visual images that can accelerate the assessment process for agencies, particularly after large-scale disasters and incidents.
Aerial Applications founder and CEO Joe Sullivan said his company leverages drone photography to map damaged areas quickly, allowing recovery efforts to begin in earnest sooner than has been possible with traditional approaches.
“After a disaster, the first question is, ‘What is the situation?’ If I say, ‘Here’s a map. Look at it,’ that’s one big leg up,” Sullivan said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications conducted at the Verizon-Nokia OCR event in Georgia. “But the next thing is, ‘Here’s a list of all of the places where the power’s gone down.’ So now, I’ve gone from ‘I know nothing,’ to ‘I visually see what’s going on.’
“Then, the next layer is that I actually have a to-do list, because I know all of the different locations I have to go to. What you’ve done is that you’ve just cut down a whole bunch of people driving around, looking, radioing in and creating confusion. You’ve streamlined that all into an orderly task list.”
This proved to be the case in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which hit the Carolinas in the fall of 2016. By using drone photography, Aerial Applications was able to map damaged areas quickly, allowing recovery efforts to begin in earnest sooner, according to Sullivan.
“The feedback we got was that by us operating in Hurricane Matthew, we were able to reduce the response time by 50%,” he said. “There, we were working with network providers, and the network got up and running in half the time. That means your 911 is running and that kind of thing. We’re very excited about what that can do, in terms of impact.”
Aerial Applications stitching together hundreds or thousands of photos from drone cameras and can produce high-resolution 3D maps provide detail at about 1 centimeter per pixel for several hundred acres in less than two hours, Sullivan said.
By working with Verizon as part of the carrier’s 5G First Responder Lab, Aerial Applications is developing a solution that is designed to provide public safety with real-time visual information, Sullivan said.
“What we’ve done is we’ve developed live-streaming video that takes the video from the drone back to the cloud in real time,” Sullivan said. “It can leverage the existing 4G network, but it’s also forward-compatible with 5G.
“For the simulations today of the wildfire, we’re actually live streaming the video off the drone with thermal video and then streaming that back, so that they can see all of the hot spots for the fire.”
In addition to supporting first responders’ response efforts, Aerial Applications mapping solutions is being used in a number of enterprise use cases, from helping the U.S. Air Force comply with vegetation mandates to mapping power lines for utilities.
“So far, most of our business has been in the federal space, and we’ve been working with a lot of large utilities, as well,” Sullivan said. “We’re looking to expand. We’re looking to add more state and local, insurance and construction.”
Aerial Applications recommends that agencies and enterprises pre-map key areas within their jurisdictions under normal circumstances, so officials have a comparison point to reference when an incident or disaster occurs, Sullivan said. This kind of work also opens other opportunities in the future, he said.
“There is definitely an advantage to pre-mapping, so that you have that base layer and that you’re prepared,” Sullivan said. “What we’re excited about is using that for training and simulation through some of our partners here at the Guardian Center [site of the Verizon-Nokia OCR event] and within public safety.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for augmented reality and virtual reality as part of that training process.”