East Palo Alto, CA: With the seasonal outbreak of wildfires across western states and particularly in southern California, the issue of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones interfering with life-saving emergency flight operations has again come to the forefront. Already this year, drones have hampered firefighting operations in California, Nevada, and Utah. Speaking on the recent San Gabriel fires, the U.S. Forest Service said,
“When drones interfere with firefighting efforts, a wildfire has the potential to grow larger and cause more damage.” Last year, five drones were sighted over the San Bernardino/I-15 wild fire, several drones hovered around a Cajon Pass blaze, and a large drone was observed over the Lake Fire. In each case, firefighting aircraft were diverted or grounded because of thedrones. Speaking last Friday at the Santa Maria Air Tanker Base, a U.S. Forest Service pilot said, “That presents a hazard for us because we don’t know what the impact could be. It could take out an engine, it could take out a windshield, it could be a bad deal. Then you can have parts falling from the drone, a safety hazard for our guys on the ground as well, or a potential aircraft problem impacting the ground.”
Drones have also delayed, diverted, and endangered helicopter medical evacuation flights around the country. “EMS helicopters are experiencing increasing encounters with UAVs, in-flight as well as taking off or landing at an accident scene or hospital helipad. Our flight crews must be able to transport patients to definitive care safely and quickly, and UAV activity can hamper that effort,” according to Blair Beggan of the Association of Air Medical Services.
AERWAZE, an East Palo Alto technology company has a solution which will help with these incidents. “While there are few good answers to those operating drones maliciously, AERWAZE’s Clear the Air technology will help with operators acting in good faith,” claims co-founder Charles Marshall.
There are two problems here: there is no dependable means of communicating with drone operators in emergency situations, and emergency responders do not have a good picture of drones operating nearby.
“Clear the Air can help on both counts,” according to co-founder Donald Henry.
AERWAZE’s solution is an SDK which can be embedded in drone controllers or apps for drone operators and a web portal for emergency personal. When integrated with a controller, the SDK sends out a locational signal to AERWAZE’s server when a drone is launched. If an emergency arises in or near the operator’s flight area, a signal is sent to the operator alerting him to the nature of the emergency and requested actions (such as “Land your drone immediately!”). The SDK then notifies the server when the drone is landed. Emergency personnel can enter emergency alerts through the web portal. Those personnel can also see where active drone operators (using a controller or app with the SDK) are located and which ones have landed in response to the alert. Further integration with controllers can prevent or restrict flights within a designated area or cause a “return to launch point” when a restriction is imposed when a drone is airborne. For legacy systems and those without networked controllers, the operator can use a mobile device app which incorporates the SDK.
Clear the Air, based on AERWAZE’s proprietary technology covered by several patent filings, will be a superior solution to others currently in development. It provides critical information both to operators and to emergency personnel. It can include a wide spectrum of alerts to operators from permanent and temporary flight restrictions from the FAA, from other federal agencies such as the Department of the Interior’s fire reporting system, and from state, local, and regional responders who need to convey urgent information to drone operators in real time and give those responders a picture of where drones may be flying nearby. Clear the Air can be used with almost any platform, not just those of single manufacturers, and can be closely integrated into the control systems of most newer drones.
AERWAZE’s Clear the Air can provide a broad range of critical information to a wide range of users.
“This solution can save lives and improve the safety of our emergency responders,” says Marshall. “A requirement that all drone operators install and use Clear the Air technology would provide a basic two-way communications path to drone operators and provide a picture of where drones are operating,” says Henry. “While emergency personnel would ideally like to know the locations of the drones rather than just the operators, the current implementation of Clear the Air can be rolled out in a matter of months rather than the years it will take to get air vehicle locations,” says Marshall, “with drone locations coming later.”
AERWAZE’s Clear the Air will be available as an SDK to incorporate in other companies’ controllers and apps. Integration with a controller is preferred as it allows much of the functionality to be automated and reduces the possibility of human error or forgetfulness. “Our interest is to get this technology up and running; we want to get this lifesaving safety system deployed as soon as possible,” says Henry. “AERWAZE will be working with UAV industry hardware manufacturers, software solution providers, broadcast networks and emergency alert systems, and encouraging general branding sponsorship partners to help roll out Clear the Air,” says Marshall, “We hope we can get this out to prevent tragedies, not in response to them.” While including Clear the Air SDK within controllers or apps should be straightforward, AERWAZE is partnering with Menlo Technologies, a Santa Clara software developer, to offer custom development assistance to those wishing to closely integrate the SDK into flight control systems to automate much of the SDK’s functionality.