Jaime Moore looks and sounds like one of the long-lost relatives from the Robertson family—the bearded men who made Duck Dynasty into a household name. He likes hunting, nature and turning mundane events into hysterical monologues—like the video he posted on Twitter about how he thought everyone at work had been abducted when, in fact, it was just Columbus Day, and they weren’t required to come in.
You’d never suspect this guy with the good-ole-boy persona is a skilled drone operator. But he is. As the emergency management director for Johnson County, Texas, right outside of Dallas, he is responsible for finding new ways to save lives.
Training Drone Pilots
When Hurricane Harvey slammed the Texas coastline earlier this year, Jaime went over to Houston with a team of unmanned aircraft systems operators to scan the devastated areas in hopes of finding additional information—stranded people, structural damage to buildings—without risking any more lives.
“We were out flying damage assessment in an area hit by a tornado, and we found a commercial area that had been hit where the building actually had a wall collapse,” Jaime said in a video posted from his time helping Harvey victims. “They had to evacuate that whole building because the roof was caving in, and that wall was gone off the side, and nobody knew it—no law enforcement or public safety or fire department-wise knew that building was so destroyed, and there were people in there working.”
They told the people working inside about the collapsing roof so they could get to safety before it caved in.
His team wasn’t alone in Houston. In fact, drone operators poured into the Houston metro area in such strong numbers that the Federal Aviation Administration reversed some of its earlier restrictions and allowed at least 43 professional UAV pilots to help with rescue and rebuilding efforts.
But the big question surrounding all these drone operations is this: Who is teaching people to fly drones? Surely it’s more than a YouTube video and an $89 flying robot you can get on Amazon Prime. That’s where AEgis Technologies comes into play. Their new development, Vampire, has streamlined the training for future drone pilots.
When Vampire Helps
AEgis Technologies has long-since been one of the top names in modeling and simulation—using video-game-like programs to train both soldiers and civilians in a controlled environment before they’re thrown to the wolves in combat, search efforts and disaster relief. A lot of their products center on the military, but they do provide other support for paramedics, city planners and police.
Vampire takes that same dedication to safety and makes it airborne. Anyone who has ever flown one of those remote-control airplanes knows the first thing you usually do is crash it into a tree. Now imagine crashing thousands of dollars of company drones into a tree—and think about how unhappy your boss would be. Vampire Pro lets drone pilots practice their flying skills on a computer long before they head out with any expensive equipment, explained Jenna Tuck, a business developer for AEgis Technologies. She also notes that some of these drones are equipped with $40,000 cameras.
“Just like any simulation and training … the number-one purpose of it is to train the operators in a safe environment where there are no loss of life, damage of property, damage of self, in a way that is close enough to reality, so that when they are able to go out and actually fly the units themselves, they are far more proficient in doing that,” Jenna said.
Vampire offers 10 simulations for future drone operators to practice on, depending on their industry. They can fly over oil and gas refineries, inspect dams, oil rigs, bridges, warehouses and even fly over virtual mountains as they look for people to rescue.
AEgis offers two Vampire solutions. Vampire Pro was designed for a single user while Vampire Team allows companies to train multiple employees at the same time. When Vampire is used in a classroom setting, the instructor has the option to inject emergency flight conditions and review trainee performances after the fact to make sure everything was done to standard. Think of it like driver’s ed, only the teacher isn’t put in danger by having to drive with hundreds of new, teenage drivers.
How Drones Help
The idea that drones can deliver our Amazon packages and save our lives sounds a little like something off “The Jetsons,” but the reality is that the future is up in the air (pun intended).
Not so long ago, miners sent canaries down into mines to make sure there weren’t any toxic gasses under the surface. If the canary died, they wouldn’t go down. These days, drones do that in a more-efficient way, ultimately saving the lives of countless miners—and canaries.
“If you’ve got something that’s in a semi-dangerous area, sometimes in these mining capacities there are gasses that are coming off. Or they may know that they are dangerous, and they can’t send someone down there … what better way than to send a one-foot in diameter drone that has a camera on it … you can safely—from the comfort of an air-conditioned unit—control … potentially to have a look, take samples of gasses before you do send someone down there,” Jenna said. “It really is a great way, for safety reasons, to be able to gauge it and get situational awareness before you put people in harm’s way.”
In June, two hikers and a dog were rescued from the Colorado mountains after a drone helped locate them. Oil and gas companies are using drones to view equipment at high altitudes instead of sending men and women up 100-foot ladders. All of that is in addition to the firefighters who send drones up with infrared cameras to see if anyone is trapped on upper levels of buildings and drones used in natural disaster clean up, like the teams deployed after Hurricane Harvey.
No matter where technology takes drones, AEgis Technologies new product, Vampire, is there to help the men and women at the helm.
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