Vidyo, Stampede Partner on Video-Enabled Drones

At InfoComm, the two companies are demonstrating drones armed with Vidyo's video conferencing software that can be used by emergency responders.

Vidyo drone

Vidyo is teaming up with Stampede, a distributor of professional audio-visual systems, to develop an integrated video conferencing solution that can be put onto drones and used in a range of scenarios, from emergency response situations to inspection of remote gas lines.

The two companies are demonstrating their efforts this week at the InfoComm 2015 show in Orlando, Fla. The solution provides a live video feed from the unmanned drone to people on the ground with computers running Vidyo's VidyoWorks software, according to Kevin Kelly, president and COO of Stampede, and Joan Vandermate, vice president of marketing at Vidyo.

The drones could be used to bring eyes to situations where it's now difficult, expensive or impossible, Kelly told eWEEK. The military could use them for low-altitude battlefield surveillance and as a method for sharing maps and intelligence reports, while emergency responders could use them to help monitor structure fires and natural disasters and companies could more easily inspect dams, high-tension power lines and bridges.

Currently, helicopters are used to take video for monitoring and inspecting oil pipelines and oil fields, he and Vandermate said. Helicopters can cost about $1,500 an hour, and that doesn't include the pilot's time or cost of operation, Kelly said. Using a drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) would cost a lot less.

"You're saving time, you're saving money, and in many instances … you're saving lives," Kelly said.

A growing number of commercial businesses are looking to use small, unmanned drones to do a variety of jobs, from delivering orders from Amazon to providing medical services. (Google received a patent earlier this month for a design for providing emergency medical services using UAVs that reportedly include medical items from a flotation device and first-aid kit to an EKG sensor as well as instructions via video or audio files for giving medical aid.)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is struggling to come up with proposals for regulating and managing all these UAVs. According to a Reuters report, FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker, testifying before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said June 17 that the agency could publish final regulations by early summer next year—earlier than what had been expected.

"The rule will be in place within a year," Whitaker said, according to Reuters. "Hopefully before June 17, 2016."

A report by The Guardian earlier this month said that Verizon is working with NASA to develop technology that would use cell towers to help direct and manage commercial and consumer drones in the United States. NASA is expecting the initial tests of the drone system to occur this summer, with the idea of launching a prototype product in 2017 that would use cell towers to help in everything from navigation to surveillance and tracking. Verizon, which is helping in the $500,000 project, hopes to finalize the concept by 2019.

According to Stampede's Kelly, the FAA and other agencies are under pressure to get rules and policies in place given the growing demand for commercial drones. He noted a recent survey of risk managers conducted by insurance group Munich RE that found that in fewer than five years, 40 percent of businesses worldwide could be using drones as a common practice.

Using drones armed with video conferencing technology will give participants real-time information they need, he said. They can see live video from the drone (though no sound), which is important when dealing with fast-changing events, Kelly said.

Vidyo brings its VidyoWorks software platform into the mix. The platform—which includes such applications as VidyoConferencing as well as VidyoWorks APIs and VidyoWorks software-development kit (SDK)—can work with a range of off-the-shelf devices like drones, medical equipment and smart glasses, according to company officials. Vidyo is working with police, emergency-medical services and internal communications agencies to help them use the VidyoWorks software in their environments.

Stampede distributes more than 80,000 professional audio-visual products from more than 150 partners from across the United States, Canada and South America, and offers drones from such vendors as Walkera and xFold.