SkyBound Rescuer Automated Drone Service

SkyBound Rescuer Trial a New Automated Drone Service Across the West Midlands: Smoothing Traffic and Public Transportation Delays

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 SkyBound Rescuer is at the forefront of public safety drone use.  Internationally recognized founder and CEO Gemma Alcock is a thought leader in search and rescue (SAR) drone operations and the use of drones for community safety, expanding the use cases and value of aerial imagery in the U.K. and beyond.

Now, SkyBound Rescuer has announced the trial of a new fully automated drone service for Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) – one that promises to help resolve a major problem for cities and towns across the globe.  SkyBound Rescuer have installed an automated drone station in Walsall, designed to help smooth transportation across bus, train, road and tram networks.

The trial has been a great success – not only demonstrating the value and safety case for automated drones in management and transportation systems, but even helping TfWM identify and monitor an ongoing public safety incident.

“It was incredibly exciting to showcase our technology in a real operational environment for the first time  – and to see it add value to the Walsall communities in a significant way in its first week was a huge achievement.”

Beyond CCTV

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) currently use more than 2,500 fixed CCTV cameras to monitor the bus, train, road, and tram network across the West Midlands region. It’s a sophisticated system: the state-of-the-art CCTV control room works alongside the Regional Transport Coordination Centre to help manage transport disruptions across the West Midlands.  TfWM also cooperates with local government to monitor CCTV cameras in the town center, to help authorities deal with car accidents and other emergencies.

Now, SkyBound Rescuer is adding on-demand eyes in the sky to the CCTV data – able to respond to emergencies in about 5 minutes, more than 3X faster than is typical for a manned aircraft response.

The Technology Behind the New Service

From the SkyBound Rescuer press release:

SkyBound Rescuer has built software, called the SkyBound Coordinator, that automatically creates data-driven drone mission plans. By simply completing a flight request form, which takes an average of 49 seconds to complete, the algorithms generate a mission plan for optimal safety and performance. This form also generates other automated decisions, such as assigning a risk-based priority level to the flight. The algorithms behind this software are a result of SkyBound’s 7 years of research and data. This software has been integrated with automated drone station (ADS) technology, which is essentially a high-tech box that the drone sits in and it enables a precision take-off and landing, it recharges the drone without needing to remove the battery, and it creates an internet hotspot so that mission plans can be sent remotely. Put simply, it makes the drone fully self-sufficient. This combination of SkyBound’s software and ADS technology means that the end-to-end flight is fully automated, and the humans-in-the-loop can dedicate their attention to monitoring the flight and/or imagery instead. This approach makes for a more cost-effective drone service, as well as speeding up response and creating standardised, repeatable, and measurable performance.

During this trial service, the flights are being overseen by a suitably qualified remote pilot situated in SkyBound’s Southampton-based control room. The drone is also remaining within visual line of sight of an onsite remote safety pilot. The drone is flying from the rooftop of Walsall bus station several times a day and feeding images from the drone into the CCTV control room. Notably, SkyBound created a 3D model of the Walsall town centre and a database of transport points of interest (POI). Their software uses this intelligence to automate safe transit routes to the POIs, ensuring the drone remains within visual line of sight from the onsite remote safety pilot and avoids intentional overflight of people.

Week 1 Trial Results

SkyBound Rescuer is all about the data: they report that response to a flight request took on average 5 minutes 44 seconds: a huge improvement over the service level agreement for the National Police Air Service, which is 15 minutes to priority 1 calls for service.

While traffic is a major problem for any populated area, TfWM also leveraged the drone data for public safety.

Importantly, whilst flying around the town centre, an altercation was observed on the CCTV cameras by TfWM’s fully trained Security Industry Association CCTV operators. As a result, TfWM instructed SkyBound Rescuer to use the drone to gain “eyes on” to assist with monitoring the situation. SkyBound’s software enables every pixel in its video stream to be quickly located in the real world – e.g. its What3Words location – which enables you to click on an activity in the video, locate it, mark it on a map, label it, photograph it and timestamp it within the recorded footage – all within a click of a button; these functionalities were put to good use during this incident. Anything captured of an evidential nature will be stored and retained as is done for fixed CCTV footage.

The Big Picture

SkyBound Rescuer are working with TfWM to evaluate the outcome of the trial to potentially expand upon the coverage of this service across the West Midlands region. The company hopes to implement a national network of automated drones that can offer rapid response to high-risk areas, monitor transportation networks, and more.

 “We’ve conducted hundreds of test flights in preparation for this trial service to optimise performance and safety, which is at the very forefront of each and every flight that we do at SkyBound,” says Alcock. “Also, we at SkyBound Rescuer focus solely on drone use cases that can improve society, so we’re excited to be using our technology to benefit the Walsall community by enhancing the estate of fixed CCTV cameras.”

Kerry Blakeman, Head of Security and Policing of Transport for West Midlands, says: “Eight months ago we set up our own dedicated inhouse drone team to explore the benefits of drone technology. We’re delighted to be partnering with SkyBound Rescuer to explore the potential of automated drone technology which will revolutionise the CCTV industry. The team at SkyBound Rescuer have been meticulous in their planning of this trial to deliver a safe and effective trial to allow us to evaluate the benefits of the ADS.”

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