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Terrific Drone Idea Stems From a Disaster

While a student at Olentangy High School in Lewis Center, OH, Divy Shrivastava witnessed his neighbor’s house burn to the ground while the family was on vacation.  He learned that the first responders had been given the wrong address – which is, unfortunately, a common occurrence in the U.S.  About 70 percent of the time, inaccurate information about disasters and their exact location is called in to 9-1-1.  Shrivastava, a drone hobbyist, wondered what could have been done to have helped firefighters save this home, and he contemplated a way to save minutes as well as lives.

Fast forward three years:  Shrivastava is a college student in Berkeley, CA, and has become obsessed with researching ways to provide firefighters and other first responders with timely, accurate information about emergencies.  He began working nonstop on a drone-oriented solution for responders. 

“I talked to as many firefighters around the Bay Area as possible.  They had pretty much the exact same complaint.  They said they almost never have any situational awareness of an emergency before they arrive,” said Shrivastava.

As a drone enthusiast familiar with computer coding, Shrivastava, at the age of 19, received a remarkable opportunity – but there was one requirement – that he leave Berkeley for the time being.  He accepted a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship award to pursue the idea of drone-oriented solutions.  He worked on the project full time, and, in 2018, he became the co-founder of Paladin Drones along with Trevor Pennypacker. 

The Thiel Fellowship began in 2011 by billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.  The Foundation’s website states: “Pursue ideas that matter instead of mandatory tests.  Take on big risks instead of big debt.  How you spend your two years in the Fellowship is up to you – we’re here to help, but we won’t get in the way.”  Twenty to 30 applicants are chosen each year for the fellowship.

Paladin Drones, based in Houston, TX, is a start-up software and drone manufacturing company that dispatches an autonomously operated drone that can fly to the disaster scene in a matter of seconds.  At the scene, the UAS can transmit overhead images of the scene to the command center and the first responders who are en route to the site.  

The proprietary Knighthawk drone and its Watchtower software package offers first responders a view of emergency sites. 

Shivastava adds, “We’ve built a full-on platform suite, hardware, software, training, and regulations, all put together in one package that gives first responders a live, overhead view of an emergency before they arrive.”

Paladin Drones serves two agencies: the Orange Township, OH, Fire Department, and the Memorial Villages Police Department in TX.  The FAA has certified both agencies to fly drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS), which is part of Paladin’s strategy.  To date, the Paladin system has recorded more than 1,600 missions.