When Menashe Haskin launched augmented reality drone firm Edgybees in 2017, with two others, he aimed to turn the sky into a technicolor racetrack. DronePrix AR gave users the chance to duck and dive through obstacle courses, collect prizes and compete worldwide.
A few months later, the company took an altogether different turn. When it became clear Edgybees’ technology could have a big use in emergency relief the team developed First Response, a drone-flying app that leveraged the firm’s gaming skill to help first responders better orient themselves in tough conditions.
The impact was almost instant. In September 2017 Hurricane Irma tore across the Caribbean and Florida, killing at least 134 people and causing $65 billion damage.
Drones were already in use but emergency services struggled to find survivors amid the carnage. First Response, which gathers information from real-world sensors and other devices like cameras and GPS, was a game-changer. Users could overlay street names and other data, and pinpoint items like cars, homes and people.
Edgybees’ business model transformed overnight. Haskin felt an overwhelming sense of pride. “Making money and technology is nice,” he tells Red Herring, while demonstrating the product at a Tel Aviv beach. “But everybody wants their mission to improve the world in some way.”
A month later firefighters deployed Edgybees to tackle the most destructive wildfires in Californian history. “When we suggested (First Response) to firemen they were ecstatic about it, because so many times in bush fires you don’t have roads any more,” says Haskin.
First Response was the company’s go-to product. It still lists three gaming titles among its applications – automotive, media and commercial solutions are there too – but emergency response is number one.
“I didn’t expect to be in such a risky business,” says Haskin, rawboned and smiling widely. “I thought we’d perhaps go to media production, but then this market came in huge: let’s not ignore that there’s lots of money to be made here.”
He is right: Goldman Sachs predicts that the market opportunity from drones will be worth $100bn by 2020. Commercial or civil drones will comprise $13bn of it.
Climate change is driving a huge increase in the number of natural disasters worldwide. The global incident and emergency management market size is set to grow from $93.44bn this year to $122.92bn by 2023 according to ReportLinker, an analyst.
That has piqued investors. Edgybees, which is headquartered in Santa Clara, CA, with a major office north of Tel Aviv, can work in all those spaces. This February it won a $5.5m funding round from backers including Motorola Solutions Venture Capital, Verizon Ventures, NVX, Aspect Ventures, 8VC and OurCrowd.
They see a founding trio with intimate knowledge of the market. Haskin led Israel’s Amazon Air Prime development, and holds over 35 patents in video, aerospace and vision processing. CEO Scott Kaplan is a veteran tech leader, while director of platform Nitay Megides is a robotics and drone expert who served in the Israeli Defense Forces 8200 Unit, which has birthed a number of high-tech ventures.
Surveillance is expected to account for a large amount of drone industry growth. Police forces already use drones, to varying degrees of approval by rights groups. But the technology’s usefulness is undeniable. Police responding to October’s tragic Las Vegas shooting, during which 58 people died, took 15 minutes to locate the murderer, “because they had to do it on the radio,” says Haskin. “Now I have them on the net, it would be so much faster.”
Cops in Orlando rarely serve a warrant without a drone present, he adds. Each new use is another revenue stream for Edgybees. The company is currently fine-tuning its product for late summer, when the Atlantic hurricane season rolls around each year. Weather is becoming more unstable. The race, for Haskin and co, is on: “There’s no time to think…because in two to three months, it’s showtime.”
With its American use consolidated, Edgybees can soon look abroad. Australia, Europe and Asia have all been earmarked for imminent projects. It is a shame to be of use amid tragedy, Haskin admits. But ultimately Edgybees’ newfound redemptive mission is “really amazing,” he says. “It’s a sense of accomplishment that you rarely find. This is something that is really helping people protect their life, protect their health, protect their property.
“That is value you cannot find,” he adds. “It’s immaterial.”