Aerial telepresence is a relatively new concept – and Cape Aerial Telepresence™ is the first platform in use for commercial drones. The idea is a game changer for drone missions, changing the definition of “pilot” and “commander” for drones.
In a stunning demonstration at AUVSI’s Xponential, Cape’s VP of Marketing Nicole Amsler let me take the keyboard to “fly” a drone located in Mexico. By simple navigation on a standard laptop, I could steer the drone to look at landscape features that interested me, zooming images in and out for a closer look. From the ground in Mexico, the official drone pilot in command kept his eyes on the aircraft as I flew – waving at me as the drone passed overhead.
At a trade show, it makes for an awesome demo. In actual practice, it’s even better.
Cape is a drone Integration Pilot Program (IPP) partner with the Chula Vista police force, where they’ve successfully launched a “drones as first responder” program using the Aerial Telepresence platform. Instead of officers launching a drone as they arrive on an accident scene, the teleoperator – a law enforcement professional – gathers drone data before officers arrive, giving them advance intelligence into the situation they’re walking into.
Here’s how the concept works: when a call comes in, law enforcement officers approach the scene in their vehicles as the drone is launched from the roof of the building. (Typically, the drone arrives well in advance of the ground vehicles.) The teleoperator in the command center manipulates the drone to get the exact data that the officers need to best manage the situation – live streaming it to officers in their vehicles and allowing the law enforcement commander in charge to plan an approach for maximum safety and results. A licensed drone pilot is on the ground ensuring the drone’s safe operation.
The program has been a winner – earning the Chula Vista Police Department the California Police Chiefs Association & Motorola Excellence in Technology Award for 2019. It’s also proven the safety and viability of the platform. “Since launching its Drone as a First Response (DFR) program in October 2018, drones equipped with the Cape Aerial Telepresence platform have conducted more than 312 flights, accounting for more than 75 hours of flight time without incident, and have contributed to 18 arrests,” says Cape.
Aerial Telepresence may actually be a safer way to fly, eliminating what Amsler calls “the disconnected pilot.” “It’s hard for a pilot to look at the screen and keep track of the drone,” Amsler says. “With Cape Aerial Telepresence, the pilot in command on the ground can focus on safety – the person directing the drone can be focused on the data.”
“It’s not the drone, it’s the data” has become a mantra in the commercial drone industry, and the Cape Aerial Telepresence platform takes the concept to the next level. “To me, it’s the subject matter expert who should be able to capture the data, to focus on that,” says Amsler. “And for the teleoperator not having to worry about wind, or sun – you get a much higher quality job.”
“That’s what it was designed for – to make that possible,” says Chris Rittler, Cape’s CEO. “We’ve taken the drone and we’ve virtualized it: now we can enable that drone to take advantage of all of the applications that are evolving.”
“Our view is that there are going to be a large number of applications that just want to utilize data from drones,” says Rittler. “You can only get data from where the sensor is located – and now, you have an on demand sensor.”
“That’s where it becomes very much breakthrough.”