Augmented Reality Offers Heightened Situational Awareness for Drone Users
Thursday, August 08, 2019 | Comments
Augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are finding holds in the commercial market as consumers adopt the technology for gaming, learning and other users. While not as established as it is in the commercial market, AR is also beginning to creep into the public-safety market.

The Joshua (Texas) Fire Department has improved its situational awareness by integrating AR into its drone, also known as unmanned aerial system (UAS), operations. The fire department started drone operations in 2015 and added Edgybees AR software to its operations about 1.5 to two years ago, said Garrett Bryll, a volunteer UAS pilot for the department.

While drones are proving useful for agencies around the country, the data and information they provide can lack context, making them difficult for first responders to work with. Bryll likened it to flying in an airplane where you can see streets and other landmarks, but you don’t know what those streets or landmarks are. That lack of information can be the difference between success and failure during an emergency.

The AR software provides an overlay of different information, such as street names, which can bolster the department’s drone operations, said Bryll. “Suddenly, you get in the air, and you’re lost, and this can help you figure out where everything is in context.”

The fire department’s AR software also gives drone pilots the ability to track staff and personnel from the air, giving incident commanders a greater picture of a situation and the status of emergency personnel.

In addition, to his work with the Joshua Fire Department, Bryll flies as a pilot for the North Texas Public-Safety Unmanned Response Team (PSURT), which provides regional drone support for public-safety activities including law enforcement. In those law enforcement incidents, such as pursuit of a suspect, the AR software enables incident command to distinguish emergency personnel from suspects and gives them an advantage with a perspective not available to suspects, Bryll said.

Joshua Fire Department’s version of AR software also allows pilots to drop a GPS pin on a point of interest and then share that point with other emergency personnel to quickly share critical information across the response effort.

While AR software has benefitted the fire department, the software is not used for every operation. In cases where the drone does not move much, such as a small house fire, the software does not provide additional value, Bryll said. AR software is most useful for operations that cover large areas, such as wildland fires and search-and-rescue (SAR) operations, because the drone can quickly cover an area, and the software can provide situational awareness to the operation.

Some critical infrastructure industries (CII) entities, especially oil and gas, are using AR software to assist in their operations such as inspecting infrastructure for leaks or other issues.

“[The software] provides the situational context necessary to safely and effectively construct and inspect infrastructure,” said Adam Kaplan, co-founder and CEO of Edgybees. “Our AR overlays can reveal key geospatial information that may go undetected otherwise. Think powerlines, gas mains, pipes, electronic transformers, street names, geographic features and even people on the scene.”

Application programming interfaces (API) for AR software allow agencies to customize the interfaces specifically for their operations and ensure that they are getting only the information that they need.

Because the drone industry is still evolving, there are many gaps in the technological capabilities, Bryll said. Extensions such as AR software help agencies close the gaps and tailor drones to fit their operational needs.

“It’s kind of like the difference between having an old flip phone and your modern smartphone,” Bryll said.

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On 9/4/19, Donald A. De Riggs said:

Just today a two-day workshop for Neighbourhood Watch Groups (NWG) concluded in my island St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, and one of the issues raised was the use of drones for surveillance as well as for situational awareness for responders during violations in real time. Your article was therefore a welcome piece as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can be effectively applied for such scenarios. Since this information will also be available to police and other NWGs, criminals escaping a crime scene can sometimes enter or cross zones where there are other NWGs, and having access to such data can thereby assist law enforcement with availability of real-time information.
One of the appeals by the local police department was that they alone cannot solve crime effectively because in most cases they are not on the scene when the incidents occur. Therefore civic-minded volunteers like NWGs should be provided with the tools that can assist the police and for their general safety and aerial patrols. Here in the Caribbean we are prone to several natural disasters, and drones can also be used for reconnaissance flights to rapidly assess damage.

Quite a refreshing article, and I will like to keep abreast with the technology and be is a position to assist with the testing of the technology as it develops.


Donald De Riggs.


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