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Startup Reveals Autonomous Drones for First Responders

A Texas startup has started selling drones and software designed to give police, fire and medical workers a better view of emergency scenes. The move comes amid a broader push to improve dispatch technology.

Paladin's Knighthawk drone
Paladin's Knighthawk drone
A young company from Texas has released an emergency response drone-and-software package, and now is aiming to get that gear into more police and fire departments.

The product launch from Houston-based Paladin comes as emergency dispatch centers and first responders across the country seek better technology to help them gain more information from calls, and to better communicate overall with residents needing assistance. Paladin’s move also highlights the growing use of drones in various public agency activities.

Paladin, founded in 2018, has released its Knighthawk custom-made drone along with accompanying Watchtower software. The technology is meant to enable first responders to obtain overhead video of crime and other emergency scenes, helping law enforcement, fire and medical personnel respond more efficiently, according to CEO Divy Shrivastava.

“A live feed is all it is doing,” he said. “It makes a world of difference. Without an overhead view there is only so much information you can give a first responder.”

The drone carries two cameras — one optical, one thermal — and has a service radius of three square miles. It is built with simplicity in mind, he said, which means it has three basic commands: take off, stop/pause and return to home base. Navigation is done via trained first responder professionals working for the particular public agency, with drones being directed by digital maps and by dropping pins onto those maps.

“The live feed can be sent to anyone who needs it,” he said, adding that the drone cameras are pointed forward during flight to an emergency response area because of privacy and safety concerns. The drone feed goes to a dedicated screen at a dispatch center and can be shared via mobile devices used by emergency responders.

The software, meanwhile, integrates into the dispatch center’s CAD technology, he said.

The Paladin drone-and-software package has gone live in two cities, including one near Houston, Shrivastava said. He said the company designed the technology for use by both larger and smaller public safety agencies. For now, prices can range from $30,000 to $300,000 annually, depending on the number of drones involved and other factors.

That cost range could change as the company is still working out pricing. Additionally, what Paladin charges a client is determined on a case-by-case basis and can includes outright ownership of the products or leases. Training is included so dispatchers can use the software and other professionals can, say, change drone batteries.

Various types of public agencies are testing or using drones as they become more commercially viable, and as federal flight regulations are revised to make drone operations more accessible.

For example, the Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Kansas recently announced that it was working on a project that could lead to medicine and lab sample deliveries via drones. A coastal city in North Carolina recently deployed a drone to monitor its beaches — basically doing the work of a lifeguard in some instances.

As those efforts gain ground, public safety agencies in the U.S. are working to upgrade their emergency response and dispatch technology, in large part to get more information to first responders as they arrive at scenes, and to improve location data.

As for Shrivastava, he said he started getting into drones just a few years ago — not long after his neighbor’s house burned down. The family was on vacation and no one was hurt, but the incident sparked his interest in emergency response, and led to educational conversations with the local fire chief.

“The chief told me that about 70% of the time, first responders have no information — or wildly inaccurate information — about emergencies” as they approach the scene, he said. “That was crazy to me.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in New Orleans.