Military Embedded Systems

AI, biometric info-gathering platform can be a battlefield game-changer


January 29, 2022

(Stock photo.)

Draganfly, a drone solutions and systems developer, has created drone solutions, software, and artificial intelligence (AI) systems to transform how various industries can save time, money, and lives. The company’s commercial plug-and-play AI machine-vision system enables the delivery of goods and data and provides biometric information through its Vital Intelligence (VI) software platform. This tech has proven its mettle across a wide spectrum of use cases ranging from retail operations and drone racing to disaster management. It could also revolutionize the battlefield.

The technology behind unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), or drones to those in the consumer world, was first proven on the battlefield. Today, innovative uses for drones are mostly coming from the consumer world, seen especially in how unmanned systems applications leverage artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

One of those AI innovators is Cameron Chell, Draganfly’s CEO. Chell’s been a serial entrepreneur since the age of fourteen and has been tinkering with machine vision since 1998 when the technology didn’t even include algorithms. Utilizing “sets,” he helped implement a system to identify goods in manufacturing facilities. According to Chell, a person would take a picture of something using an app and the AI would find that or a similar product in the inventory. Walmart, Neiman Marcus, and a number of other retailers implemented this system, which enabled purchases in one click.

Chell’s fascination with machine vision and its capabilities did not end there. In the mid-2000s, after engineering and developing the hardware for commercial drones, he and his team focused on building the software and related applications to enhance drone capabilities.

“Whether it was survey software or accident-reconstruction software, whatever the case, we realized the value of drones fell into two general categories: data and delivery. Both of those things require deep insights enabled by autonomous operation and AI,” he recalls. “So we decided to lead the pack by being all about AI so that others could have better products and services because of AI.”

Draganfly did not have this epiphany on its own: Its customers across major commercial markets – including military and government, agriculture, environmental, energy and mining, construction and public safety – drove the company to this conclusion.

Businesses, universities, and public agencies – for example logistics company Valqari, Alabama State University, and various sheriffs’ offices across the U.S – came to Chell complaining that the AI they had did not work. The complaints ranged from the fact that the AI still required significant human intervention, it cost too much, it failed to provide user-specific insights, it didn’t reduce drone pilot workload, and it failed to properly assess the data collected. 

“We realized that with additional AI capabilities, the return on investment would go over the top and become really useful for the customer,” Chell says. “So the long and the short of it is that all of our AI has been driven by customer demands and desires.” The company designed its AI to those needs, as it built out its bench.

And then COVID-19 struck.


Necessity is the mother of invention

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chell recalls, organizations again came to Draganfly, this time seeking ways to safely assess their environments, reopen, and remain operational.

As a result, Draganfly developed and integrated into its product suite Vital Intelligence (VI), a platform that measures vitals and detects symptoms across large groups of people and from a distance.

The VI software leverages RGB camera systems to measure human vital signs in real time. RGB cameras capture red, green, and blue wavelengths and create images that replicate human vision. Sensory imagers collect visible light in the same spectrum that the human eye perceives (400 – 700 nm), convert it to an electrical signal, and then organize the information to render images and video streams. These inexpensive off-the-shelf cameras range in cost from under $100 to just a few hundred dollars.

VI’s algorithm extracts data from the RGB video feed to measure biometric data such as heart and respiratory rates, blood pressure, oxygen saturation (SpO2 rate), and body temperature. An easy-to-read dashboard displays the data so users can obtain and measure health insights in real time. Data analysis can be tailored to anonymize all data, share a full data profile, or select specific required elements.

VI can integrate into existing platforms, be deployed on any mobile device with a camera, or be delivered through Draganfly’s turnkey kiosk, which is suitable for large events, arrival runways, or back-of-house screening. (Figure 1.)

[Figure 1: Shown is a full-body VI scan. Image courtesy Draganfly.]


One of the earliest employments of Draganfly’s VI was with a local police department (PD) that was looking at innovative ways to combat the pandemic by measuring social distancing and mask-wearing. Draganfly’s AI enabled the PD to adjust their resourcing.

After initial success with the tech, one sheriff quipped, “Can you use that drone to tell if people have COVID?” At first, Chell says, they all got a chuckle out of it. Then they started looking at the problem more closely. “We realized that if we could measure both high heart rates and low SpO2s, we would know someone was infectious. So we added those analytics to our platform.”

“Since the beginning, it’s been very important to me to build companies with purpose and value. I am always looking for ways to provide effective, safe, and sustainable solutions to real-world problems,” he continues. My guiding principle is that I do not believe in the impossible.”

Data-driven results

VI has enabled numerous event venues, schools, offices, and other gathering spots to attain the seemingly impossible during a pandemic: to reopen and stay open, safely.

Draganfly teamed up with Fobi, a data intelligence company, to integrate the VI Smart Vital system into Fobi’s Venue Management System for Conferences & Events. The venue-management platform now consists of Draganfly’s Smart Vital assessment system, Fobi’s Passcreator mobile Wallet passes, proprietary Smart Tap Devices, Smart Scan Pass Validation App, and Insight Portal for event analytics.

Prior to an event, organizers can prompt guests to complete health screening on their phones. Using the phone’s camera, Draganfly’s Smart Vital system monitors, with voluntary consent, vital signs that include body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and SpO2. It does not register any personal data of the individual being screened.

In 2020 Alabama State University (ASU) became the first university in the U.S. to implement Draganfly’s VI health and safety system. ASU incorporated Draganfly VI kiosks throughout its campus as part of its Safely Opening Schools Program. VI continues to provide an integrated health and screening protocol used campus-wide to screen, detect, assess, protect, and provide continuous action against the potential threat of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Thus far, ASU has had one of the lowest COVID infection rates in the country. Talladega College followed suit shortly after ASU’s adoption of Draganfly’s technology.

More recently, Draganfly teamed up with the multibillion-dollar Drone Racing League (DRL) to incorporate its VI platform to monitor the heart and respiratory rates of DRL pilots. There are no wires or gadgets hooked up to the pilots, only a camera directly across from their face that will capture their biometrics (heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels, heart rate variability) and display them to the audience. “These are all indicators of how they're racing, how they're feeling, and what they're doing,” Chell says. “It’s incredible to watch a drone racer or athlete in action and see their biometrics in real time. It's like a whole other aspect of entertainment.”

But technology will not just display health insights for entertainment value. It will also provide practical real-time safety value. Chell explains, “It will tell us things like are we seeing heart rates that are too high? Or are we seeing some-thing else that is a warning sign for an athlete?” These insights can lead to life-saving interventions. Beyond gathering real-time biometrics, from a post-event analytical standpoint, VI will enable correlation of racer performance with physiological state. These analyses can assist athletes in improving overall performance, influence DRL in terms of course setup, and aid users in other ways not yet imagined.

In the public-safety arena, the state of Ohio uses Draganfly’s Smart Vital VI system to pre-screen inmates and detainees before bringing them into detention. In one Florida municipality, the technology is being used to screen staff at the 911 Communications Center before shifts.

Taking it to the battlefield

On the battlefield, there is a “Golden Hour.” It’s the one-hour time frame from combat injury to definitive care that exponentially increases the likelihood of survival for downed service members. Imagine a scenario with multiple wounded requiring care. Draganfly’s VI tech could help personnel recovery teams triage from a distance who needs care most urgently – this technique could save lives.

Now imagine a humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery effort where service members need to deliver Ebola vaccines into a village. Instead of immediately putting soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in harm's way, a service could first put a drone up with Draganfly’s VI tech to analyze population health.

“If you've got high heart rate, low SpO2, you know you've got infectious conditions in there,” Chell explains. “Leaders now have actionable intelligence to execute their plan. Instead of sending people into the area unawares now you can decide to fly the vaccines in by drone or increase personal protective equipment, right-size manpower, and more.”

VI tech can be used to check on the health of combatants, aid workers, support staff, and civil society in real time. It can gauge the status of the enemy or be used for sniper verification if installed on a scope. The list of potential military applications for VI is only as limited as one’s imagination.


Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active-duty military and federal civil service to the Department of the Air Force. She is an internationally recognized expert on unmanned aircraft system law and policy, the Law-Tech Connect columnist for Inside Unmanned Systems magazine, a recipient of the Woman to Watch in UAS (Leadership) Award 2019, and the CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC. For more information, visit her website at: