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While drones are proving useful for first responder agencies, the data and information they provide can lack context, making them difficult for first responders to work with. The lack of information can be the difference between success and failure during an emergency. Augmented Reality (AR), which is more and more present at the public-safety market, provides an overlay of different information, such as street names, which can bolster drone operations.

The Joshua (Texas) Fire Department has improved its situational awareness by integrating AR software into its drone operations. The software also gives drone pilots the ability to track staff and personnel from the air, giving incident commanders a greater picture of a situation and the status of emergency personnel.

In regional drone support for public-safety activities, such as pursuit of a suspect, the AR software enables incident command to distinguish emergency personnel from suspects and gives them an advantage with a perspective not available to suspects. Joshua Fire Department’s version of AR software also allows pilots to drop a GPS pin on a point of interest and then share that point with other emergency personnel to quickly share critical information across the response effort.

While AR software has benefitted the fire department, the software is not used for every operation. AR software is most useful for operations that cover large areas, such as wildland fires and search-and-rescue (SAR) operations, because the drone can quickly cover an area, and the software can provide situational awareness to the operation, according to

Some critical infrastructure industries (CII) entities, especially oil and gas, are using AR software to assist in their operations such as inspecting infrastructure for leaks or other issues.

“[The software] provides the situational context necessary to safely and effectively construct and inspect infrastructure,” said Adam Kaplan, co-founder and CEO of Edgybees. “Our AR overlays can reveal key geospatial information that may go undetected otherwise. Think powerlines, gas mains, pipes, electronic transformers, street names, geographic features and even people on the scene.”

Application programming interfaces (API) for AR software allow agencies to customize the interfaces specifically for their operations and ensure that they are getting only the information that they need.