This lifesaving augmented-reality (AR) app — designed only months before as an AR racing game for drone enthusiasts — is now used by more than a dozen fire and police departments in the United States, as well as the United Hatzalah emergency response network in Israel.

By: Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel21c

When Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys in September 2017, the new First Response app from Israeli-American company Edgybees helped first-responders identify distress calls in flooded areas. When wildfires hit Northern California a month later, the app steered firefighters away from danger.

The app orients rescuers in confusing environments and helps them track rapidly evolving circumstances. Patent-pending algorithms collect real-time data from fast-moving cameras mounted on drones, cars or body-worn accessories, enabling three-dimensional elements such as street maps, power lines, infrastructure and distress signals to be layered over live video.

How a fun game became a serious rescue aid

It all started in 2016, when Israeli dad Adam Scott Kaplan – a former executive of successful technology companies Xennex, Athoc, Digital Guardian and Tonian – caught the drone bug from his friend Menashe Haskin, who managed the Israeli development office of Amazon Prime Air and holds some 35 US patents in aerospace, video and vision processing, data processing and communication.

“I bought myself a DJI drone and began filming my daughter sea surfing,” Kaplan tells ISRAEL21c. “I quickly got bored, and — crazy entrepreneur that I am — I started flying between trees and rocks to compete with myself. But when a drone hits a tree, the tree wins. Menashe and I discussed it and decided to develop a game. DJI loved the concept and released it last May.”

As the first AR game for DJI drone users, Drone Prix AR was a smash hit especially with new drone pilots wanting to master their skills in a fun, safe and immersive way.

Edgybees, the company formed behind the game, is led by Kaplan (CEO), Haskin (CTO) and robotics and drone expert Nitay Megides (director of platform).

On the fly

Before long, DJI’s public-safety officer and authorities from American fire and police departments approached Edgybees about adapting the technology for real environments.

“Over 1,000 police departments in the US are now using drones in lieu of helicopters,” says Kaplan. But drones lacked a technology for real-time mapping over video, and this is exactly what Edgybees could provide.

Just when the company started testing the app with several police and fire departments, hurricane season hit Florida.

“We were asked if our software could help, so we had to work 24/7 to get it up and running,” says Kaplan. “We had the maps working offline because they had no cell-phone coverage.”

Edgybees teamed up with FlyMotion to provide critical visual orientation to Hurricane Irma rescue workers in Florida.

Kaplan will talk about the successful Florida deployment of First Response next week at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC, alongside Ryan English of Tampa-based FlyMotion, whose drone operators used the app to orient rescuers during Hurricane Irma.

Edgybees works with a host of public-safety companies and government agencies through distribution agreements with DJI and others.