This special-edition issue by Skies Magazine highlights what the Covid-19 pandemic has been like for pilots, operations personnel and even passengers with a collection of human interest and first-person stories.
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Imagine, for a moment, the following scenario: A major fire breaks out in a large, multi-storey industrial building housing hazardous materials. It’s only a few blocks from a major subdivision, and the fire is quickly spreading.
Multiple firetrucks arrive, but the department’s chief-along with its most senior HazMat specialist-are out of town attending a conference. Though they’re on the phone with the onsite deputy chief, they’re limited by their inability to see what’s happening.
Even the onsite team is hampered by a lack of situational awareness; firefighters can tell the roof of the building has also caught fire, but have no idea how extensive the damage is, or how quickly it’s spreading.
A firefighter trained and authorized to operate a drone in this urban space quickly powers up an InDro Robotics M210C-an industrial DJI product that has been dramatically enhanced by InDro engineers to meet the very stringent criteria required by Transport Canada for this type of deployment in controlled airspace and near people.
With the InDro now hovering, the pilot-in-command (PiC) and those in the immediate vicinity of his tablet, which displays the view from the drone’s optical or thermal camera, now have an eye in the sky.
But the real technological magic is about to unfold.
As the PiC edges the M210C in for a closer view, another firefighter yanks a rugged, waterproof box called a Firestream from a truck. He pops it open, attaches an HDMI cable to the back of the controller being used to operate the drone, and within seconds something of a miracle is happening: High quality video is now securely streaming to the chief and the hazardous materials specialist. They can see what’s happening, in near real-time.
What’s more, not only can the chief or those at the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) see what’s happening-so too can every firefighter on the ground with a cellphone. Plus, once those firefighters have logged into the system, their own smartphones help provide more crucial data-even in thick smoke.
“The system shows where they are with GPS co-ordinates,” explains Philip Reece, CEO of InDro Robotics. “And this gives you that God’s-eye view of what you’re doing and where your assets are.”
Think about that for a moment. The decision-maker, regardless of whether they’re across town or across the country, has a complete, near-instantaneous view of the situation.
“This is a game-changer for us, whether there’s a structure fire or a structural collapse,” explained Walt Warner, assistant fire chief, Operations Support, with the District of North Vancouver’s Fire and Rescue Services. He’s been testing the Firestream since May 1.
“Information is power,” he says. “And being able to have that situational awareness, to have eyes on the scene, is invaluable.”
But is it really a game-changer? Warner insists it is.
“For years we relied solely on messages either by radio or text. Now you’re able to get live, streaming video,” he says. “It not only increases first responder safety, but also allows agencies within the Emergency Operations Centre to make decisions with greater confidence.”
Reece believes there’s a considerable market for the product, and wanted the near-indestructible Firestream to be affordable.
At about $8,000, the device is a fraction of the cost of the nearest competition.
“I’m going to have to have to eventually give it back to him,” said Warner, who has been using a loaner. “But we will be looking at purchasing one in the near future. It’s just a smarter way of doing business.”
“You can buy a Matrice 210 or a streaming product online,” he said. “But you’re not getting InDro. What you see is what you get with those guys. The quality of Philip and his crew is above and beyond.”