Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chesapeake man aims to create a fleet of rescue drones

Tom Walker, founder of DroneUp



Imagine a fleet of drones scouring rural areas or cities to help find a missing child.

That’s what Tom Walker of Chesapeake-based DART Ventures envisioned when he bought a drone last October.

“I took it out and flew it for about a week or two and got bored. And I realized that there had to be something that I could do,” he said. “I didn’t really want to use it to make money, but I started doing research and realized that there were a lot of people who were doing a lot of great things with drones. They were saving lives. They were finding missing children.”

But there was a pattern Walker saw in each of the cases involving drones finding missing people: It was just happenstance.

“They happened to be standing by and they happened to have a drone,” he said.

Walker’s solution was to build an application system called DroneUp that would send law enforcement alerts to nearby drone operators. Pilots would receive the information through the app, accept or decline a mission, and then choose to use their drones to help find a missing person.




But it’s not entirely that simple. Drone operators have to meet certain qualifications before joining a response team.

“As I started working with the FAA and everyone else, it really turned into something bigger because we began to identify problems with airspace management, basic safety rules and coordination between law enforcement,” Walker said.

DroneUp provides required training and exercises for drone operators so they can receive commercial remote pilot certification through the Federal Aviation Administration.

Walker said he hopes training requirements will help ease concerns with law enforcement, who have had “tepid” reactions to the technology.

“I think my biggest concern is making sure that we don’t do or say something that could get law enforcement nervous about what we’re doing ...” he said, adding he hopes the two entities will be transparent with each other.

Walker presented and demonstrated the app to the public and several law enforcement members for its official launch Aug. 21.




Several local drone pilots were live on the app and responded to a fake mission for a missing person. A map on the app showed the location of each drone pilot within a set radius.

The demonstration was live and the “missing” person was Walker’s neighbor, who hid in her backyard till one of the drone pilots found her. A video feed of the last few seconds of the search was displayed on a screen.

According to Walker, less than 1 percent of drones are used for commercial purposes; the remaining 99 percent are used by hobbyists and enthusiasts. Those drones have the potential to be a positive impact on society, he said.

“Right now, there’s 120,000 to 150,000 drones flying in Virginia,” he said. “We believe by the end of 2018, there will be about a million drones flying in Virginia. That’s not an insignificant number.”

Original article ➤ https://pilotonline.com

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