Skydio Drones for Public Safety Fritz Reber

From the floor of AUVSI’s Xponential 2022: an interview with former police officer and Head of Public Safety Integration Fritz Reber on Skydio drones for public safety.

Fritz Reber is a well respected figure in public safety – and in the drone industry.  Reber served at Chula Vista Police Department for 27 years, retiring as UAS commander from the department that led the way in the use of drones for public safety.  Reber was a primary mover in the concept of drones as first responder: an application that serves both officers and communities.

Now, as Skydio’s Head of Public Safety Integration, Reber says he is helping to meet his goals of getting as many drones as possible into the hands of public safety officers. “I knew some of the pain points that needed to be solved for drones as first responder programs – and I wanted to be part of developing a turnkey solution,” he says.

As a seasoned law enforcement veteran, Reber understands exactly what a crisis situation feels like for the officers involved.  “Drones are a way to be somewhere that you don’t want to be or you can’t be.  It provides an expert decision maker with the information they need to act…but you need that quickly.  You have to have the drone in the air, right then.  You don’t have time to call in an expert pilot.”

“Any time you can send a drone into an environment that you can’t see, there is no need to put anyone in harms way.  The ability to do that in any environment, safely and easily is important.  Emergencies are nerve-wracking – it needs to be easy.”

Skydio drones for public safety have addressed that sense of urgency: and can be used by whatever officer happens to be on a call.  “The way the Skydio drone is designed, you can get out of the box and into the air in 90 seconds,” says Reber.  Ease of use isn’t only about flying: “You have to think about how you charge it, how you store it, how you access the data – all of that comes into it,” he says.  “Skydio drones are designed to be easy.  It doesn’t take a lot of effort to update firmware, change the batteries, and keep them operational.”

“The heritage of the company is in offering a consumer product,” he points out.  “When you offer a product to consumers, it needs to be easy to use.  We’ve applied that ease of use to the professional setting.”

Security and Sustainability

As the drone industry evolves and uncrewed systems are used more frequently in public safety and government agency environments, security has become a growing concern. Reber says Skydio thinks of security and risk mitigation from multiple angles: data security, network security, and operational security – the risk that officers may not be allowed to launch in a critical area due to geofencing or other considerations.  “You don’t want to be subject to politics when it’s time to take off,” he says.

It isn’t only communities and officers who are concerned about security, he points out: many municipalities have stringent policies on data security that have to be considered. “There are a lot of security needs – we’re supporting efforts to work with these public safety customers on addressing all of those needs.”

As a U.S. drone manufacturer, Skydio was one of the first platforms approved for the DIU Blue sUAS platform, a list increasingly adopted for vetting drone platforms. While Skydio hopes to be the top choice for public safety agencies as they build their fleets, they don’t want to be the only choice.  “All of our efforts have been to increase the availability of drones to public safety,” says Reber.  “We want to enable officers to use them in more critical situations.”

“We’re supportive of a broad ecosystem of trusted, secure solutions.  You can’t compromise on security, but we want public safety to have a wide variety of options – that’s important for the health of the industry.”

Developing for the Future: the 5 A’s

Skydio is delivering now – and building for the evolving needs of the future. “We’re trying to build sustainable drone programs,” says Reber.  “There are a lot of stakeholders now…it’s not just about drones, it’s hardware, it’s software, and it’s the team that stands behind it.  The team that Skydio is building is right in line with what public safety needs.”

Skydio has created a roadmap for the future that is guiding development, which they call the 5 A’s.  “It’s not just picking the right drone,” Reber explains.  “It’s the aircraft; aircraft management system (like landing, or changing batteries); airspace awareness; autonomy; and approvals.  Those are five elements that you have to solve for.  We have all five of those in our sights, and we are building for those.  You can see that in elements like the onboard detect and avoid and the docking system.”

“The vision is to be a turnkey solution, and we have the DNA to get there,” says Reber.  “We’re building a platform with a strong team behind it that will carry forward and allow drone programs to keep growing.”

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