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Austin is home to several interesting and innovative drone technology companies, but when most people think of drones they typically think of a toy or a piece of military equipment. Software companies in the drone space are now taking off, helping businesses across a wide array of sectors. One of the most interesting of these companies is DroneSense, launched in 2015 by UT alums, Christopher Eyhorn and Gerard Juarez. The company recently secured its Series A financing, led by public company FLIR Systems, a pioneer in thermal imagery sensors and systems.

“Drones are a transformative technology ideally suited to help first responders get ‘eyes in the sky,’” says Juarez. “DroneSense has worked hand-in-hand with public safety professionals to create a software platform designed to revolutionize the way police, firefighters, search and rescue and other public safety workers do their job.” With DroneSense’s software, first responders can fly any drone, easily collaborate with other pilots, and access all the data collected in a central location. From managing flights, hardware, and team member data, to providing detailed reporting and direct integration with the FAA for flight authorization, DroneSense platform offers an end-to-end, simple solution that allows users to focus on the mission at hand.

While drone imagery and video footage have already been used for a few years by public safety organizations, implementations of drone programs have experienced obstacles and limited success to date. “There is a host of reasons why many organizations struggled to build their programs,” Eyhorn says. “A lack of skilled pilots, difficulty sharing data, concerns about privacy, and the security of collected data – we build our software to specifically address these problems.” The result of all this work is the DroneSense platform, which consists of three components:

  • Pilot is the drone-agnostic flight control app that provides real-time views and mission-critical functionality, including tools for autonomous operations and pilot-to-pilot collaboration.
  • OpsCenter is the command and control module, giving stakeholders and pilots collaborative tools and multiple live aerial views via a secure and common operating picture.
  • AirBase is a full system of record, enabling detailed and automated data collection and management of an organization’s drone program, leading to greater accountability and transparency.

For local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, drones are becoming a necessary tool, and are applicable to a wide range of use cases. For example, aerial views from a drone can not only provide police officers the location of an active shooter, but also an understanding of the surrounding area. This level of situational awareness provides valuable information such as the direction the shooter might be headed, escape routes for victims, and the shooter’s firing line. Officers can then plan the appropriate response (without putting each other at risk) while also helping to prevent civilian casualties.

Firefighters can also realize many benefits from using drones such as timely, multi-dimensional views of fires that were previously unattainable or required expensive helicopters. Firefighters equipped with drones can better understand a situation and determine the best way to respond, helping save time while mitigating their exposure to harm. Moreover, drones equipped with thermal sensors can see through smoke, identify hot spots on a roof, and determine the intensity of a fire from a safe distance. Following an incident, drones can provide data and imagery to map an entire scene in 3D–valuable information that can be used for preventative measures, future planning, analysis, and investigations.

Drones are also increasingly being used in natural disaster response, such as wildfires and flooding to assess environmental and terrain conditions before the first responders (and second responders, such as utility crews) hit the ground. A prime example of how drones can save lives was in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey that hit the Houston area in 2017. Drones were used throughout the region to assess damage, identify stranded residents, and inspect critical infrastructure such as power lines and roadways.

“Despite the devastation and loss, it was highly encouraging to see the wide deployment of drones in this catastrophic situation. Drones used by our platform have a tremendous opportunity to be a force multiplier in such widespread and chaotic situations,” says Eyhorn. “Everyone at DroneSense is driven by a common desire to make a positive impact in real-world situations, namely using drones to help save lives.”

Additional use cases are being discovered every day in public safety, and drones have enhanced many missions already. Please visit our website to see a selection of these.

The genesis of DroneSense was the culmination of the founders’ interests, passions, and background in technology and aviation. Juarez had an established career in aerial photography and was an early adopter of drones in his business. Eyhorn is a manned aviation pilot and proven entrepreneur in the tech industry. Together, both founders recognized a significant opportunity in helping first responders utilize these new innovative tools in their operations.

“Working hand-in-hand with first responders has given us great insight into how we can help the men and women tasked with keeping us safe use drone technology to solve real-world problems,“ said Juarez.

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