Emergency Workers Now Have Access to Military-Grade Drones

These drones want to give EMTs, traffic police and other clients an “eye in the sky” to help them respond to emergencies quicker.

Nov 4 2016, 12:00pm

Image: Jordan French

Drones could soon be keeping an eye on us in the name of saving lives.

A multi-company tech partnership is pairing military-grade surveillance technology with drones for first responders and emergency workers to use in the field. The idea is to give EMTs, traffic police and other clients an "eye in the sky" to help them respond to emergencies quicker.

Drones from SICdrone, which focuses on high-speed commercial drones, are set up with technology from several different companies for this joint venture. San Francisco-based company CrowdOptic, which produces augmented reality and data-analyzing systems, gives the drone's video the ability to livestream and provides focal clustering analytics, which is essentially the ability to recognize groups or patterns. Another company, Suspect Technologies, provides software with facial recognition and obfuscation technology, according to a product announcement release.

All this means the drones provided to this collaboration's clients will be able to fly fast, record faces in real time, recognize patterns in traffic and pinpoint people who are in the middle of an emergency.

And since drones have previously been used by firefighting organizations to put out fires and for fire surveillance, this may be further proof that drones will own the future of first response.

"Our unmanned aircraft now have capabilities that no other drone provider offers," said Daniel Bosch, CEO of SICdrone, in the release. "Such capabilities make our UAVs part of an integrated system designed to fulfill a larger purpose, rather than a standalone vehicle serving merely as an isolated asset."

Drones have been entering the emergency response field for a while, and they've received praise and raised questions of privacy concerns. While drones can swoop in and deliver a defibrillator to the family of someone having a heart attack within minutes, software like facial recognition software conjures images of a sci-fi surveillance state, where the buzzing technology collects too much information about us.

Read More: Turns Out Drones Make Great Firefighters

Nevertheless, SICdrone seems set on the saving lives mission. Its announcement comes after CrowdOptic released its drone surveillance Android app, FieldApp, which anyone can tell a drone to do "surveying, field estimation, and geo-coordination activities," the release stated. The software was previously used by the U.S. Special Operations Command to track "points of interest."

Jon Fisher, CEO of CrowdOptic, told Motherboard the initiative's clients include Sony, the Denver Broncos, UC San Francisco Medical Center, traffic police in China and some fire departments.

He said the U.S. Special Operations Command hired the group of companies to quickly get a prototype of this drone out. "This is the first time SOCOM has done business this way," Fisher said.

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