Seattle-based startup, Data Blanket, is making waves in the field of wildfire management. Founded in March 2022 and located in Bellevue, Washington, the firm specializes in deploying AI-powered drones designed to autonomously assess and monitor wildfires, providing real-time aerial imagery to those at the frontline of the blazes.
The company’s drones serve as the eyes in the sky for firefighting teams, enabling them to view fire zones from a unique bird's-eye perspective. This breakthrough has been lauded by firefighters, with one fire chief humorously praising the technology’s potential, noting that CEO Omer Bar-Yohay has effectively made his firefighters "400-feet tall."
This summer has seen an uptick in wildfire activity globally, with notable incidents causing havoc in Canada, Greece, Italy, and the Pacific Northwest. Data Blanket's approach could be the answer to more efficiently combating these challenges. "Our technology offers a game-changing perspective on how wildfires are managed and tackled," said Bar-Yohay.
Behind Data Blanket's innovation is a trio of founders. CEO Omer Bar-Yohay and COO Yair Katz both hail from Eviation Aircraft, with military backgrounds in Israel. They're joined by Gur Kimchi, who previously led Amazon Prime Air’s drone delivery initiative and boasts a decade of experience at Microsoft. Kimchi, also a key player in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Drone Advisory Committee, serves on Data Blanket’s board.
Their collective expertise and vision have garnered attention and financial backing. Securing over $4 million in seed funding, prominent investors include Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Innovation Endeavors, supported by former Alphabet CEO, Eric Schmidt.
The company's drones are equipped with state-of-the-art features, including RGB and infrared cameras, 5G and Wi-Fi capabilities, and advanced AI software. These drones can autonomously survey large areas, providing crucial 3D data about a fire's environment, helping in predicting fire behavior and assisting firefighting strategies.
However, the road to technological adoption is not without challenges. George Geissler, Washington’s state forester, acknowledges the potential benefits of drones but raises concerns about the overwhelming amount of information that could potentially confuse ground teams. Integration and ease of use are paramount.
Data Blanket is keenly aware of the competition in drone technology for firefighting but emphasizes its drones' autonomous capabilities. As Bar-Yohay explains, their technology teaches drones to understand and adapt to their surroundings.
Currently, the startup is coordinating with the FAA for operational waivers, including one that would allow drones to operate beyond an operator's visual line of sight. COO Katz is optimistic about these approvals, emphasizing their importance in advancing the fight against wildfires.
With a team of 14, Data Blanket is actively showcasing its products to West Coast fire agencies, aiming for an official product release next year. The company offers flexible acquisition models, allowing departments to purchase the system outright or avail of their services on an hourly or daily basis.
Given the escalating concerns surrounding wildfires, interest in Data Blanket's solution continues to surge. "The urgency is palpable. We're constantly receiving inquiries and feedback. Our goal is to make a significant impact and assist in this global challenge," concludes Bar-Yohay.