An Israeli startup that combines Augmented Reality technology and drones has become a serious aid tool for first responders on rescue missions and disasters zones, especially across the United States.
Edgybees, headquartered in Palo Alto, California with offices in Beit Herut, an Israeli community in northern Israel, has developed a real-time platform that improves “situational awareness” for rescue teams through software that overlays real-time 3D mapping and data on to live video from fast-moving cameras on drones, cars, helicopters, aerial platforms, and even body-worn accessories. The company last month raised $5.5 million in a seed funding round led by Our Crowd, with participation from the venture capital arm of Motorola Solutions, a firm Edgybees CEO and co-founder Adam Kaplan refers to as “the biggest company in public safety”, Verizon Ventures, 8VC, NFX, and Aspect Ventures.
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According to Kaplan, Edgybees’ drone-flying technology has already been used by 15,000 firefighters during the Northern California wildfires last October and emergency response teams in the aftermath of Florida’s Hurricane Irma.
The company, founded in 2016, has grown exponentially in the last two years due in part to the increase in using drones in emergency situations, Kaplan tells NoCamels at Edgybees Israel locations, where four types of drones are on hand to test the company’s AR technology. “Over 1,000 police and fire departments have bought drones” to handle public safety situations,” he says.
From video game tech to life-saving device
The idea behind Edgybees first began as a drone racing game devised after a spell of boredom in 2016, Kaplan tells NoCamels. The former co-founder of Tonian Systems and an executive for companies like Xennex and Digital Guardian was introduced to drones by pal Menashe Haskin, a graduate of the IDF Intelligence Corps Unit 8200 who had also managed the development of Amazon Prime Air.
Kaplan said he bought a DJI drone and filmed his daughter surfing, but grew tired of that and soon built an obstacle course. “I wanted to challenge myself. I started flying between trees and rocks, but Menashe warned me it was a silly thing to do. When a drone hits a tree, that’s it for the drone,” he said.
The pair decided to take their experiences and create an AR racing game where visuals would be laid over the live video feed. The Drone Prix AR game — which Kaplan calls the “Mario Kart” of drone racing — won the interest of the Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI) drone company which released it in partnership with Edgybees in May 2017. The Chinese firm, a leader in the drone industry, then decided to team up with Edgybees to look beyond the consumer drone sphere. It was Romeo Durscher, the director of public safety integration for DJI Drone, who approached Kaplan and Haskin to ask them to develop technology for drones that would help people.
Later that year, Edgybees released First Response, a drone-flying app helping to direct and orient responders in emergency situations and disaster zones by helping them track evolving circumstances, through patent-pending algorithms that collect data and layer it over live video.
Rescuers already have their hands on drone videos, but Edgybees’ AR tech actually provided real-time mapping with the ability to understand and identify important information like the location of victims and/or other responders, points of interest in disaster situations, distress signals, or even criminals who were still at the scene, Kaplan explains.
He tells NoCamels that during a recent bomb scare at an amusement park, response teams “were using drones [with our tech] to evacuate people.”
“We can mark where police are, visualize things,” he explains, “If there’s an IED [improvised explosive device], they mark it by putting a physical marker on the ground. With us, you can digitally mark a spot and share it with others. It’s putting context on video.”
Edgybees’ First Response app is currently being used by dozens of fire and police departments across the United States in states like Florida, California, and Texas.
Kaplan said the company wants to focus on elements beyond public safety and will use its recent $5.5 million in funding to bring its AR technology to new verticals, including defense, smart cities, automotive, and broadcast media.
Verizon Ventures, one of the investors in Edgybees’ recent funding round, want to see the company bring its AR technology to help manage their car and drone fleets. “Edgybees’ technology aims to bring AR to much more challenging circumstances than currently possible – on fast-moving outdoor devices like drones and cars. As a leader in both fleet management for cars and drones, as well as in immersive consumer digital experiences, Verizon Ventures is excited to back this technology,” Verizon Ventures’ Merav Rotem-Naaman said in a statement.
The drone market
Drones were initially used as a source of combat — militaries used them to spy on and sometimes even kill their enemy. But as is common with widespread technology, drones soon became commercial items. The financial consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers eventually estimated that the worldwide drone industry is said to be worth $127.3 billion in early 2016.
Drones are now being used for photography, real estate, and yes, even delivery services. Amazon even made its first delivery by drone, delivering a TV streaming device and a bag of popcorn to a customer in the UK in December 2016. Drones are now being used to respond to emergency situations and help save lives in a variety of ways.
In January 2018, Fox News reported that a Silicon Valley company called Zipline used drones to deliver units of blood to Rwanda. There was also a study done by researchers in Sweden testing where the drone or ambulance arrives faster to the scene of an emergency. In all cases, the drone beat out the EMS vehicle.