by Mike Kennedy
1:14 AM- A frightened young woman places an urgent call to 911.
Dedicated Dispatcher: “911, What is your emergency?”
Frightened Young Woman: “Please help, someone is trying to break into my house,” comes the terrified voice on the other end of the line.
Dedicated Dispatcher: “Ma’am, are you safe right now, I just launched a Unmanned Aircract System (UAS) and it will be there in less than 2 minutes. Officers are on their way, too.”
Frightened Yet Now Hopeful Young Woman: “Yes, I locked myself in the back bedroom and I am hiding, please hurry.”
Dedicated Dispatcher: “Ma’am, are there other people in the house with you and are they safe?”
Young Woman: “Yes, my daughter is in the room with me and we are hiding together.” “Hurry, it sounded like he just broke a window.”
Dedicated Dispatcher: “Maam, stay hidden and keep talking to me, the UAS will be at your address in 5 seconds.”
Young Woman: “Okay, I think I hear it outside. That was fast. What do I do now?” Dedicated Dispatcher: “Ma’am, I can see your house through the cameras on the aircraft, the perpetrator is running away now and we are tracking him. The officers will be there in just a minute to make sure you are safe”
Young Woman: “Thank you. Is it safe to come out, now?”
Dedicated Dispatcher: “Yes Ma’am, the bad guys are gone, the other officers are almost there. Stay on the line until they get there okay.”
Relieved Young Woman: “Okay, I hear sirens now. The officers are here, thank you so much, that was fast.”
If the opening narrative does not sound all that much like a technology revolution, let us consider a few things. The first is that law enforcement was on scene in less than two minutes from the time the 911 call came in to dispatch albeit with a machine. According to Ted Lindsley, President and CEO of Olaeris, that is how quickly the AVEA system can get to anywhere in a jurisdiction. According to their website, Olaeris develops and manufactures domesticated, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that offer value and make sense in today’s economy. They are certainly different from the bigger UAS companies because they develop products and serve commercial and public safety agencies, not the military.
“AEVA is the only UAS in the world designed specifically for emergency response. Olaeris went through 2 years of design reviews with police, fire and rescue commanders until all agencies were happy with the capabilities and performance of the AEVA system. Agencies cannot afford to waste manpower flying a UAS onsite at an incident and they need visuals before they arrive, not after they have secured the scene. Therefore, AEVA is the only system designed as a distributed network of intelligent UAS assets that cover the entire city, county or state and are controlled from a central location,” explained Lindsley.
The second thing to consider from the narrative is that a law-enforcement machine, in this case the AEVA UAS, was first on-scene. There are very definitive differences of course, between any machine responder and a human responder, but before disregard sets in, consider the response of the perpetrator in the narrative. Once the machine was on site, the perpetrator knew he was being watched and decided to flee rather than proceed with the criminal act. Some might question as to whether or not he really knew he was being watched, but not so much can be questioned given all the publicity UASs and their employment by law enforcement have received over the past few years. Privacy advocates have ensured through the mainstream media that everyone knows that UASs have cameras that are viewed by officers and officials on the other end. Since criminals want to succeed with their criminal acts and thereby receive the benefits to them resultant from the successful act, they cannot logically also want to be arrested and pay the consequential debt to our society. What criminal then, would not flee the scene once he or she knows their criminal act is being “caught on video,” for lack of better words.
In one way the machine multiplied the manpower from a probably already undermanned police force. The military calls this kind of technology a force multiplier. The machine itself cannot make an arrest, but its presence actually deterred the criminal from completing the criminal act. It is the same principal as human officers arriving on the scene and causing the criminal to flee. In Lindsley’s view, “Field responders can view live, broadcast quality, stabilized video on their smart phones and tablets so they get the information they need without the burden of operating an aircraft. This works as a manpower multiplier to enhance capabilities and field strength whereas all other systems work in the opposite manner.” With the principle outlined above, the response of the criminal is the same: fleeing the scene. The difference however, is the response of the responding officers. When the criminal flees, the responding officers have a choice to either pursue while others take care of the scene or not pursue the fleeing criminal to take care of the scene. When they choose not to pursue, any chance to catch the criminal will be largely dependent upon eyewitness accounts from neighbors, if there are any or evidence left at the scene, if there is any. In this case, the UAS tracks the fleeing criminal and follows him wherever he goes.
Autonomy is certainly not a technology revolution for the UAS industry, but the fact that AEVA is tied to, and in some ways, dependent upon the 911 system is a revolution. This is the third point towards addressing the opening narrative. This also marks a revolution in dealing with the public for those chiefs who see the value and need of UAS for their departments, but have been apprehensive in dealing with the somewhat vague privacy concerns. “The media has done a good job of painting drones with fear tactics and misinforming the public so we spend a great deal of time addressing this. More than half of all agency leaders we meet with have been making decisions based on false assumptions. They have been given misinformation by unreliable or uninformed sources and simply accept it as fact.” Lindsley added. “An autonomous response to a public cry for help was essential to reduce response time and provide advance visuals from an incident. When a dispatcher enters a dispatch ticket for any agency in their control, or an alarm is received, the data is ported to our AEVA system and the nearest aircraft automatically launches in about ten seconds. It automatically navigates to the location, arriving within about 120 seconds.”
The privacy advocates have made life hard for some chiefs. Last year in Seattle, the mayor forced the chief to abandon his plans for drone use before they actually got underway. Privacy concerns were noted as the primary reason for the mayor’s decision (1). In the media accounts about this, Doug Honig, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington called it a wise decision because “Drones would have given police unprecedented abilities to engage in surveillance and intrude on people’s privacy and there was never a strong case made that Seattle needed the drones for public safety.” In an interesting and seemingly very intelligent decision, Olaeris chose to work with the ACLU from the start, and have hence won their approval. Lindsley explained, “Aligning with the ACLU was not a genius marketing plan or sales tactic, it was simply common sense. We knew what the public concerns would be and the privacy issues that needed to be addressed transparently so we designed those features into AEVA. In early 2014, Olaeris and ACLU provided testimony to the North Carolina state legislature and the media, as usual, painted us as opponents. We had multiple meetings with the national ACLU representatives after that testimony and they quickly realized that ACLU and Olaeris agree on privacy issues and protecting first amendment rights. Soon after, the ACLU published an Op-Ed affirming our alignment together in the hopes of forcing other manufacturers to adopt the same privacy protections that Olaeris developed.” The work with the ACLU also eases the concerns of some of the apprehensive chiefs in the country. “As a result of this logical cooperation, elected leaders are comfortable with our UAS technology because they know the system is designed to protect the privacy rights of the citizens being served. We've engineered carefully designed checks and balances into the system with full transparency so citizens are free to scrutinize how AEVA is used,” he added.
The fourth point to consider from the narrative is that the dispatcher, and in essence the responding officers, could see the scene before human officers arrived. The video from the AEVA is distributed to smartphones, laptops, etc…This could make a huge difference, and not just for law enforcement. Why is it so important for first responders to have access to distributed video? It is hard to envision a situation where a first responder is not putting him or herself at risk in the response. Having real-time video provides the responder with improved situational awareness. Similarly, for large-scale disaster responses, having video intelligence that can be transmitted beyond the boundaries of the response allows decision makers and subject matter experts (SMEs) to assist in that response. However, verbally relaying what one sees to someone else who does not see it can lead to problems. Sometimes critical information can be lost in translation. Herein lies the potential technology revolution. As of right now, officers and departments are responding to a somewhat vague, “Domestic dispute, or attempted breaking and entering,” description from dispatch. This leaves many uncertainties and officers truly have no true idea to what it is that they are truly responding. Video speaks for itself. Responders can see exactly to what they are truly responding. Imagine the potential difference this could make in any number of responses when, according to Lindsley, “In many cases, this means fire personnel have eyes on the scene before the first truck rolls out the door and can adjust response accordingly.
Unlike some other companies, who have taken their military designs to the responder community and then seeking their feedback, Olaeris incorporated their feedback from the start. Lindsley explained the process, “We spent more than 2 years in design reviews with police, fire, rescue and disaster management commanders, continually adding capabilities and improving performance. This was a challenging process because Olaeris had to dissect the needs of each agency, translate those into capabilities, and engineer the solutions. These commanders could not tell us what they actually needed from a UAS because they did not know. So we had to learn their jobs, understand their challenges, and then develop solutions for all the capabilities they would need. Every six months we would present a new design and they would reply with additional wish list features to add. After nearly 2 1/2 years, they ran out of wish list features and all agreed that AEVA exceeded the expectations and needs of every department. That's when we knew we had a starting point. Since then, we have added a lot more features but we are revealing capabilities and details slowly so as not to educate competitors too quickly.”
The company’s promotional videos start with a rather provocative question for departments by asking them if they would trust their response to a hobby toy- an apparent reference to other UASs. A first glance at the videos makes the eye of one familiar with many of the other UASs wonder just how different the AVEA really is. The videos show the system and it really does not look much different from some of those other UASs. However, Lindsley revealed the difference by elaborating on the system’s design. “At first glance, AEVA might look like the hobby toys you've seen but no other manufacturer can compare to AEVA, which is an 8-foot, 50 pound, completely weather sealed aircraft. She flies at 100 miles per hour and is rated in 40 mile per hour winds. Every major subsystem in the aircraft has multiple backups and the IP65 engineering rating means the entire aircraft is resistant to water, sand and salt penetration. AEVA is an extremely rugged, commercial grade aircraft on par with a Bell helicopter but incorporating more safety features.” These features alone make it different from other UASs but there is more to the story. Lindsley pointed out another potentially huge difference, especially for departments. “We engineered a commercial grade aircraft to pass a conventional FAA airworthiness certification like manned aircraft are required to do. Those rules are modified to apply to UAS but AEVA is the only system in the world that was designed and built specifically to achieve that goal. A COA is just a 'permit' allowing the operation of hobby toys within line of sight. Those are worthless to emergency responders, although many do not know it until they waste money buying them and learn the hard way that those toys will not provide the capabilities they need. We're working toward a national registration on AEVA and the FAA is interested because nobody has set precedence yet for minimum UAS safety standards, training requirements, operating procedures and inspection guidelines.”
While the AEVA system may truly represent a technological revolution in 911 responses, as with all equipment there are other considerations. The second and third order effects of ownership can be daunting in some cases, but Olaeris seems to be addressing this in their system package too. Lindsley, “During design reviews we learned from all emergency response leaders to understand how we could develop a system that would be practical and efficient. The resulting system we named AEVA, provides exactly the capabilities that all emergency response agencies need. In addition, we bundle a complete services package that resolves every expense of UAS operation including insurance, encrypted bandwidth services, maintenance, warranty, repair, training, certification, and all other costs associated with UAS solutions.”
Responding to large-scale disasters is already a daunting task for departments everywhere. Mutual aid agreements have to be solid, with clear roles and responsibilities. The AEVA concept may serve to simplify the overall response. Lindsley described the “swarming” concept and provided a glimpse into how it could work when implemented. “A fleet of AEVAs are installed across a region, all controlled from a central command location. As the state network is expanded, they all become part of one system so aircraft assets can be loaned, shared, and borrowed between all agencies and departments. Each installation is customized to the needs and geography of the region but the capabilities and performance remain consistent. A good rule of thumb is often starting with the number of fire stations serving a region since those are usually disbursed equally across a geography. Depending on the city or county, one aircraft per fire station would usually provide ample coverage for police, fire, and rescue. However, the system also serves parks department, port, and coastal safety, infrastructure inspections like water towers or bridges, mapping and survey work, and dozens of other routine government responsibilities so AEVA really impacts most departments within the service area.”
As of publication, no states or agencies are currently using the concept, but Olaeris offers several incentives that make it much easier for governments to pursue this as a solution. “In July, we announced a 100% money back guarantee offer to America's Top 100 Most Dangerous Cities. As a result of this and other news, Olaeris is currently in discussions with three states about integrating a statewide AEVA network. Each will have initial cities that will also integrate citywide installations. As more cities join the network in each state, all aircraft become part of a statewide network that can be commanded at any city, county, or state level. It will take several years for states to build out a complete architecture but the AEVA system was built to serve for many years ahead and comes with an initial 5-year warranty covering all costs. Therefore, it suits government because those are usually slow purchasing decisions and agencies want assurance that the manufacturer stands behind the equipment and service,” said Lindsley.
So, what is next for Olaeris? “Our priority now is selecting a handful of locations across the U.S. to integrate wide scale AEVA networks. Those cities will become demonstration systems for other city leaders to visit and learn firsthand from other emergency responders how AEVA has improved efficiency and safety. Winston Salem, North Carolina is at the top of that list. A recent news story that aired statewide includes political leaders talking about the importance of AEVA and the UAS industry to their area.” You can view the news story here.
As with all stories about new and innovative technologies, At the Ready encourages our readers to do their research. In March 2014, Market Info Group published "A First Responder's Buying Guide and Operating Model for UAS" (link) and concluded that AEVA was the only UAS in the world that meets 100% of their recommendations. You can view several videos that offer much more information on their YouTube channel which consists of the following playlist: