How Nightingale Is Making Aerial Security a Reality
With its intelligent drone infrastructure perched atop commercial and industrial end users’ solutions, Nightingale Security yields more expansive protection and faster response.
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As a pioneering American company offering a complete commercial security drone solution, Nightingale Security’s business is taking off. This robotic aerial security (RAS) service company offers end users a fully autonomous infrastructure system comprising base stations, drones and intelligent software, deployed at a customer’s location to be mission-ready 24/7.
As the saying goes, the future is now. Drones are beginning to catch the attention of some forward-thinking decision makers in the security space. With good reason, as evidenced by the perimeter surveillance and protection proposition RAS provides.
Customers of Mountain View, Calif.-based Nightingale can see, patrol and protect their facilities using autonomous robotic technology that is literally taking coverage and communications to new heights.
Co-founded in June 2014 by CEO Jack Wu, along with John Hsu, Nightingale’s launch was inspired by Wu’s deep interest in military tactics and history, in particular, and respect for the military, in general.
“I read military history and DoD white papers that led me to understand the importance of ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and situational awareness. Today a lot of that is being done by drones, so I thought situational awareness could be very useful to large commercial and industrial sites,” says Wu, who brought a successful background in technology, gaming and advertising start-ups to the endeavor.
So how exactly does Nightingale’s RAS solution (not to be confused with RaaS, which we’ll get to) perform security missions the company claims are cheaper, faster and better than current solutions? Let’s go behind the scenes of this drone business to see what the buzz is all about.
Robotic Aerial Security In Motion
Simply put, Nightingale provides commercial customers with automated perimeter patrols to help ensure critical locations or areas currently unable to be seen are under traditional surveillance.
These scheduled autonomous patrol missions are based on day, time, path, altitude, hover duration, camera direction and other mission details. Here’s a brief lowdown on how these high-flying eyes in the sky operate.
Nightingale’s RAS solution can be integrated with a client’s VMS, PSIM and legacy systems to augment its effectiveness. When an alarm is triggered, the system automatically dispatches a drone to the alarm location and streams live video to the security team.
Nightingale’s drones are equipped with a FLIR thermal camera that allows them to see at night in zero light conditions. The brains behind the operation is Nightingale’s Mission Control, its patented software that was co-developed by specialists of SpaceX (whose early engineering team included Hsu, an aeronautics and astronautics Ph.D), NASA and robotics research company Willow Garage.
Nightingale’s end-to-end system provides autonomous remote operations (ARO), which the company explains eliminates the need for human intervention while maintaining all-hours readiness.
The capability of multiple drones to operate as a squadron is enabled by relay-to-drone-to-drone (R2D2D) communication, while intelligent drone coordination assignment tasks facilitate drone squadron cooperation.
Accessible on both PCs and mobile devices, Mission Control commands all drones at multiple facilities; recognizes objects and follows them; manually controls drones, cameras and sensors; and avoids static obstacles.
Dubbed C4AI by Nightingale for its command, control, communications, computing and artificial intelligence capabilities, the Mission Control app acts as a hub that displays live video and alerts from drones, while edge computing and onboard AI handle the work.
And, as Wu enthuses, “Aside from 24-hour readiness, the drones get smarter over time. The more our drones operate over time, the more they learn about the operational environment so they can better differentiate between threats and nonthreats. It’s kind of like piano lessons; the more you learn, the better player you become. It’s the same thing with any intelligent machine. [Take] autonomous cars; there’s a lot of learning that the machine needs to do. But our systems are the first out there. We’re happy to be the first company to encounter a lot of the challenges and master how to make the machine more reliable so it can fly more missions and get smarter faster.”
FAA Exemption Enables Multidrone Operation
On Jan. 9, 2017, Nightingale Security was the first robotic aerial security company granted an exemption from the FAA for single pilot or visual observer with multiple unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operation. This is a valuable benefit for the company’s clients as they can take full advantage of this exemption and deploy a multidrone operation, notes Jack Wu, Nightingale CEO and co-founder.
“We’re proud of this achievement and we are working with the FAA to define and guide future drone regulations for corporations,” Wu says, adding that the company owns a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office patent. “Nightingale is the first company in the world to have a robotic aerial security patent that combines the drone, base stations and mission control software in the three scenarios: the Nightingale Security drones take off and fly prescheduled patrols, respond to alarm events and land and recharge autonomously.”
Where, Why & How
Envision this, SyFy Channel fans (Wu’s favorite show an appropriately futuristic thriller, “The Expanse”) — these drones and base stations actually communicate and collaborate. Better than some humans, for that matter, and they’ve got each other’s backs.
If, for instance, a drone is deployed and runs low on battery power, another drone will autonomously deploy and finish the mission, so the first drone can return safely to the base station and recharge.
And, like the city that never sleeps, these robotic drones are always awake; they never switch off so they’re always ready for deployment whenever needed.
Nightingale counts verticals such as oil and gas, critical infrastructure, corporate facilities, power plants, solar farms, manufacturing facilities, datacenters, mining and search-and-rescue missions as end-user applications among what it deems expanding market opportunities for deployment.
The drones and base stations are typically installed on roofs and other secure locations around a client’s facility. As Wu points out, many of their large industrial or commercial facility customers have very big perimeters and areas to cover. Many come complete with hills and trees or other obstructions that are inaccessible to security staff.
“The problem for clients with large perimeters is that it’s hard to have people patrol regularly in a cost-effective manner and get there quickly when incident occurs,” he explains. “Especially when difficult terrain is in play. Drones are much more terrain insensitive, so they can be dispatched when an incident occurs and provide a much faster response.”
Clients Need Not Own the Drone
Nightingale offers “Robot as a Service” (RaaS), so customers don’t have to buy, own or maintain anything. Nightingale Security provides an RaaS subscription based on a monthly fee or annual contract. Depending on a client’s facility requirements, Nightingale Security will install, integrate and maintain all hardware and software.
The company provides comprehensive maintenance, repair and upgrade (MRU) support, which includes everything needed to keep their system operating smoothly and continuously. Nightingale keeps clients up to date with all the latest features and system upgrades and is open to partnering with others to develop additional applications.
In short, it’s an onsite autonomous drone solution that’s able to perform more than just security functions. “It’s all about solving our clients’ problems,” Wu says. “If you have something to secure, our Robotic Aerial Security service can act as a force multiplier to your current security posture.”
Mac Wrixon, Nightingale’s director of operations, emphasizes that among the customer benefits to this bleeding-edge security proposition is the reduced worry about paying for a system that will need replacing as new technologies come into the market.
“We make sure our drones are always mission-ready and always under warranty while eliminating technology obsolescence. The RaaS business model is disrupting the concept of paying money to own security equipment then hope in five years it doesn’t becomes outdated,” Wrixon says. “Budgets don’t grow on trees and we have a solution to meet our clients’ needs.”
Wu echoes that, noting the company is bringing to the table a different industry perspective. It’s also about ensuring customers can fully optimize their security investment.
“RaaS is a model that the entire robotic industry is moving toward,” says Wu. “Clients don’t want the headache of maintaining it them themselves. And, on top of that, technology is perishable, so they don’t want to purchase something with their budget and get left with something that’s outdated in a couple of years. It’s up to us to create a solution that can solve a variety of clients’ security problems.
“But one important point, from the perspective of our customers, is that when they’ve invested a lot of money into a perimeter sensor but yet they can’t get people close enough to investigate quickly, they’re wasting that investment. To have our solution combine with their initial investment, we’re allowing them to gain full value out of that perimeter sensor. On top of that, we’re doing it better, cheaper and faster, and raising the value of their initial security asset by making it more capable when integrated.”
Securing Buy-In for New ‘Air Force’
Drones are still an emerging technology in the physical security world. You couldn’t fault some customers for thinking of the devices as more of a toy than a viable, even enterprise-grade security solution. Since this remains new territory for many, how does Nightingale proactively educate prospects and get the word out on its products and services?
“The education process is, we’ve been doing this for the last two-and-a-half years,” Wu says. “Primarily, we explain the capabilities of our system and work with clients to develop a concept of operations [CONOPS]; we discuss the cost savings in terms of ROI. The education process often leads to the technology adoption process.”
But sales are not the only incentive for Nightingale Security, whose brass sees buy-in rationale extending beyond individual organizations’ security.
With a strong love of country, Wu states with admirable conviction, “I think that trusting your security operation to a foreign company would be like us relying on their countries for our defense. As an American, I truly believe that we in the security industry, given the fact that there are a lot of critical infrastructures, we have a responsibility to keep this country safe and not give our important information to a foreign country.”
Wu emphasizes that Nightingale is a friendly company to partner with. “We can’t succeed on our own as we are just a part of our clients’ security posture, so it’s our job to work with other technology partners to provide a complete solution. It’s all about the getting it done.”
Just some of the technology partners that Nightingale Security works with are: FLIR, Milestone, NVIDIA, Pulsiam, Genetec, Vidsys, SureView Systems, Future Fibre Technologies (FFT), VMware, Globetouch and Thermal Radar.
Regarding its own technology, Nightingale Security takes pride in naming its drone the Blackbird Block 1, as an homage to the SR-71 Blackbird of the U.S. Air Force.
“The SR-71 was codenamed Blackbird and is the most advanced surveillance aircraft this country has yet built,” Wu explains. “It still holds the world speed record; it flew over the former Soviet Union, Cuba and parts all over of the world. We’re forward-looking and Blackbird is that symbol to us. It’s a symbol of American innovation.”
It also speaks to the nature of Nightingale’s early adopter customer base, and how the company sees its role in today’s security landscape.
“The majority of our customers are U.S. veterans, working in the physical security space. I want to thank them,” Wu says. “We cannot complete our mission without their support; it’s our goal to provide capabilities so they can do their jobs better.”
By providing an autonomous system of base stations, drones and intelligent software, Nightingale Security is doing just that — round-the-clock readiness is at its customers’ fingertips and systems are always on duty. These eyes in the skies are certainly worth watching.
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