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Above and Beyond

Archer Drone
Jared Porcenaluk, senior software developer; Gordon Folkes, founder and CEO; and Spencer Hehl, chief technology officer

Archer UAS Drones Deliver Vital Time in Emergencies

(January 2020) – In a small Georgia neighborhood in the middle of November, a dam is released, causing severe flooding and power failures for the homes and people in its path. In one of those homes, submerged in floodwaters, someone is in urgent need of help. Heart palpitations set in, along with shortness of breath, then chest pain. In the middle of sudden cardiac arrest, the person awaits the arrival of a defibrillator, a piece of medical equipment that has been proven to mean the difference between life and death in medical emergencies like this.

That was the scenario presented to Archer Unmanned Air Systems (Archer UAS) in November 2019 at Operation Convergent Response, an event hosted by Verizon Enterprise Solutions. The exercise offered an opportunity for testing new-to-market technologies in realistically simulated emergency scenarios. A small neighborhood was constructed, water was pumped in to create a flood, and the emergency scene was set: A ransomware attack that simulates terrorists releasing a dam, leaving a neighborhood suddenly flooded with no way for emergency responders to quickly get to the scene to help.

Archer UAS was faced with the question of how to deliver emergency medical equipment to someone in one of the flooded homes. The Orlando-based company was ready with an answer.

Early Stages

CEO Gordon Folkes was attending Florida State University in 2014 when he had the idea for Archer UAS, named in honor of his father’s pest control company, Archer Exterminators. Folkes had always been fascinated with technology like remote-controlled cars, and when unmanned air systems began to appear on the market, he saw an opportunity to quickly get life-saving medical supplies to those in need with slight modifications to existing unmanned aerial vehicle technology. The modified devices could be used to drop off the equipment quickly, buying time for both patients and the emergency response teams trying to reach them.

“The ability to deploy the UAS vehicle instantaneously, and its speed and athleticism, are the core drivers of Archer First Response Systems,” Folkes said. “Cardiac arrest and opioid overdose are incredibly time-sensitive medical emergencies, and our system is best suited to respond to emergencies that require an especially fast response time.

“Our goal as a company is to cut the number of cardiac arrest fatalities in half by 2030,” he said, speaking about the company’s focus on defibrillators in particular. “There are 326,000 cardiac arrest fatalities annually, and the majority are preventable with a defibrillator. We have always been and are still hyper-focused on that.”

With the help of FSU’s small business incubator, law clinics and a grant for technological innovation, Folkes began to lay the groundwork for the parts that would go into the drones and the technology that would be used to support them. After he graduated, Central Florida seemed the perfect place to implement the systems in the first stages. Not only was it centrally located, but it offered a relatively flat topography that made mapping in the first stages of development a bit easier.

He originally intended to implement the solutions in private communities, but it quickly became evident the company could help more people by expanding its coverage area. So he turned to municipalities to use the technology to its fullest extent. Each system can service a 35-square-mile coverage area in less than five minutes, and combining vehicles and hubs can accommodate a larger coverage area.

Folkes explained how the system works: In the first stages of setting up, Archer’s team goes through the coverage area and collects thousands of coordinates, creating a database of about 26,000 potential drop points that are then stored in the system. When someone dials 911, the coordinates from that person’s smartphone are sent to the dispatch center and the 911 operator inputs them. Archer First Response Systems automatically decides which predetermined coordinates would be best for dropping in the supplies as close as possible to the location of the people who need help.

“That’s usually within 50 feet of them — in a driveway or yard, or a neighbor’s property, depending on the landscape,” Folkes said.

From there, a mission file is selected and uploaded to a drone vehicle stored at the nearest fire station. The drone is automatically released from its housing unit and takes off to its destination with equipment in tow.

“All of that happens automatically and takes about 18 seconds in total — no pilot training or remote-control operators,” Folkes said. “The 911 dispatcher can track it, watch as it flies and walk the caller through using the equipment.”

Archer UAS is now also able to transport Narcan, a nasal spray that helps prevent fatalities from an opioid overdose, and tourniquets, which are used in situations involving bleeding and hemorrhage. All fit into the company’s focus on low-density, time-sensitive medical equipment able to be administered by any “lay rescuer” until emergency teams can get on the scene. While the technology is currently in the beta stage, they are anticipating going live in the coming months.

On the Horizon

The possibilities continue to expand, with partnerships and challenges like those presented in November at Operation Convergent Response.

While attending Florida Venture Forum’s first inaugural Aerospace Capital Forum, Folkes made a connection that eventually led him to a valuable introduction with a Verizon director. The drones themselves have always operated on LTE networks, and Verizon spotted an opportunity for a powerful partnership. Using the communication company’s networks, as well as SIM cards, Archer can operate wherever there is 4G or LTE coverage.

“In our scenario, a cyberattack on the infrastructure that caused a sudden flood, we had to deliver to a location with so much precision to make sure it made it right to the first responder on the roof,” Folkes said.

To face the challenge, his team members built an artificial intelligence satellite image platform, where they were able to download up-to-date satellite images from an existing website and scan the imagery to identify a specific delivery point.

“Usually, we block out trees and water and roofs, so all that’s left is flat ground that we can hover over and lower the payload down to,” Folkes said. “In this situation, we had to use those rooftops and deliver directly on top of those. It showed us our technology is more versatile than we thought. The challenge of having to do that showed us exactly what kind of precision we are capable of.”

That ability to scan imagery and readjust coordinates according to real-time changes in landscape opens up even more potential uses for the future. Archer’s technology can be especially helpful in emergency scenarios such as hurricanes and other natural disasters, terrorism attacks, SWAT team operations and other situations that require assistance that humans can’t always deliver in person, Folkes said. “There are tons of different possibilities we are very actively exploring right now.” 

As featured in the January 2020 edition.

About the author

Meaghan Branham

Meaghan Branham

Meaghan Branham is a writer and communications manager for i4 Business magazine. A Florida native who graduated from UCF with her BA in English literature in 2017, she looks forward to more opportunities to share the stories of those shaping Central Florida.

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