Police drone makes dramatic winter rescue in Connecticut, USA

Feb. 21, 2020
An advanced industrial inspection drone is released, and Yale University students order snacks by drone delivery, in the rest of this week's unmanned vehicle news.

In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics, a police drone makes a dramatic rescue, a new advanced UAS for industrial and structural inspections is revealed, and Yale University students on study break can order snacks by drone.

Police drone finds missing blind man in Connecticut

A police drone recently helped rescue a blind man who spent 33 hours lost in the woods in Connecticut in freezing conditions.

After becoming “disoriented due to medical conditions” according to the Enfield, Connecticut police, the man found himself trapped in the woods near his home in Enfield. The man’s brother contacted police after not being able to reach him as temperatures reached a low of nine degrees.

“Due to the temperature, there was concern about hypothermia and it was clear that time was of the essence for a successful outcome,” Enfield police said.

Enfield police borrowed a UAS and a pilot from police in neighboring Vernon, Connecticut, and within 30 minutes of launching, the UAS spotted the man about 100 yards into the woods, allowing first responders to reach him and take him to get evaluated and treated.

In an interview with CNN, Lt. Bryan Nolan said, “it is becoming more common for us to use drones.”

Black Swift Technologies unveils American-made UAS for automated industrial and structural inspections

Black Swift Technologies (BST) has introduced its American-made, advanced UAS called the Black Swift E2, which is designed for automated industrial and structural inspections.

Equipped with advanced navigation, the Black Swift E2 UAS can conduct highly accurate, up-close inspections of infrastructures even in extreme environmental conditions. Considered an intelligent drone because of its leveraging of advances in computer vision and machine learning, the UAS can complete autonomous flights when combined with an inspection payload.

The UAS can safely and reliably navigate around complex structures thanks to this optional laser navigation technology, all while providing real-time actionable data to its operator.

Instead of carrying its payload on its belly, the Black Swift E2 carries its payload up front, which allows operators to get full field-of-view, even looking vertical. Its sensor packages can be swapped using a quick-change payload bay. The battery pack is also easy to change, and its placement is adjustable to maintain perfect balance while accommodating a variety of payloads.

According to BST, typical payload includes an RGB camera, laser positioning and guidance system, and radio modem, but that can be customized to the operator’s individual requirements to include things such as lidar, thermal imagery, trace gas sensors, radiometers, and multispectral cameras.

Because of its ability to easily fold down and fit into a custom carrying case for easy transport while protecting the aircraft from the potential damage during transit, the UAS is considered a “truly mobile solution.”

“Our partnership with Alerion has resulted in the most advanced autonomous inspection drone on the market today,” says Jack Elston, PhD., CEO of Black Swift Technologies.

“The combination of BST’s avionics and flight management system perfectly complements Alerion’s computer vision-based navigation and edge computing capabilities. The E2 is an unmanned inspection solution unrivalled in the industry right now.”

The E2 uses the SwiftCore flight management system (FMS), which is made up of a state-of-the art autopilot and intuitive user interface that BST designed from the ground up to automate missions in difficult conditions with minimal user training. The SwiftCore also utilizes several advanced capabilities including machine learning for preventative maintenance, and it is currently being tested in cutting edge machine vision research to facilitate routine flights beyond the operator’s line-of-sight.

Operators can program the Black Swift E2 in just minutes when they leverage BST’s proprietary Flight Planning User Interface, allowing them to calculate the area under review and then begin collecting data for immediate analysis and decision making. BST says that its flight planning is simple and easy to accomplish as a result of its intuitive tab-driven interface.

Mission monitoring and mapping is all executed from a handheld Android Tablet loaded with BST’s SwiftTab software. BST says that users can confidently deploy their Black Swift E2 with minimal training using gesture-based controls. They can also collect data in diverse environments with confidence. The company adds that the UAS delivers “even greater location accuracy and tracking” with its available RTK real-time GPS corrections.

Drones deliver snacks and sundries to students at Yale University

Drones are being used to deliver snacks and sundries to students at Yale University through a new student startup called Kiki Air.

Offering products sorted into four categories—candy, snacks, healthy and essentials—Kiki Air delivers to specific drop-off locations around campus, including residential colleges, commonly-frequented walkways and on Old Campus. Currently undergoing beta-testing using its iOS app, Kiki Air promises to be a “more efficient, environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional car- or walking-based delivery services.”

Kiki Air is currently testing with a small sample of students. Once the testing period is over, the app’s developers plan to create an Android app and eventually expand beyond Yale’s campus.

“The convenience store business model hasn’t been updated in a hundred years,” says co-founder Cat Orman, class of 2022. “Delivery is expensive, inefficient and pays drivers terrible wages. We created Kiki Air because we want to bring that model into the future in the way that creates real jobs and reduces the carbon footprint.”

In its current model, users place an order and select a drop off location. Once an order is placed, sundries are loaded into packages and attached to drones. The drone drops the ordered snacks in a padded envelope for pick up after a Kiki Air pilot and another Kiki Air staff member call the customer to ensure that the selected drop off location can safely receive a package, meaning that the area is clear of birds, trees and other potential obstacles.

“The app is so well made and user-friendly,” says Kiki Air ambassador Morgan Ross, class of 2022. “I think once it is established at Yale and perfected, it can spread to other campuses.”

The original idea for the startup was conceived as a final project for a Yale course by CEO Jason Lu, class of 2020. Lu went on to recruit co-founder Josh Ip, class of 2022, to develop the code for the app, and co-founder Orman to work on publicity and marketing. Kiki Air has since conducted two rounds of testing on campus for periods of about two days at a time, during which they offered $5 worth of free snacks when ordered through the app.

The startup has experienced early success, as it was selected in the winter batch for Y Combinator, which is the competitive accelerator based in Silicon Valley. Kiki Air has chosen to defer involvement with Y Combinator to the summer, when it will receive its $150,000 grant.

The company’s co-founders have also secured funding from several angel investors who “want to try something new to better the future,” according to Lu. The plan is for the part of the funding to be used to expand to other college campuses.

Kiki Air is planning to launch fully next semester.        

Share your vision-related news by contacting Dennis Scimeca, Associate Editor, Vision Systems Design


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