UC Berkeley startup fights fire with drones

Divyaditya Shrivastava/Courtesy

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Paladin Drones, a startup created by campus freshman Divyaditya Shrivastava, aims to decrease response time and increase information for firefighters through innovative unmanned aerial vehicle — drone — technology.

A fire doubles in size every 30 seconds, according to Shrivastava, but the drones used by Paladin can fly up to 45 mph, providing critical information about the fire to firefighters still en route to the scene.

“So now they have a plan of attack ready and can start attacking the fire immediately,” Shrivastava said.

Paladin began as an idea the summer before Shrivastava arrived on campus when one of his friends lost everything in a fire. The Paladin team, consisting of Shrivastava and friends Trevor Pennypacker and Adithya Sriram, both freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania, then entered campus’s Big Ideas competition that fall.

Big Ideas offers financial support of up to $18,000 to students who have creative solutions to pressing social challenges; the program also offers mentorship, critical feedback, skills development workshops and networking opportunities to help students launch their social ventures, according to Big Ideas program manager Adrienne Chuck.

“Divy was a student who made a point to take full advantage of these resources, and I think it paid off with Paladin Drone’s results in the contest,” Chuck said in the email. “Divy’s tenacity and hard work are the real reason Paladin Drones has gotten off the ground in such a short amount of time.”

The Paladin team spent the first semester of the contest speaking with as many firefighters as possible, according to Shrivastava.

Paladin set out to create an original hardware product but shifted to use pre-manufactured drones, from DJI drones, after their first prototype was not cost effective. DJI, based in China, is the top drone manufacturer in the world, according to UAVs @ Berkeley founder David Dominguez Hooper.

This summer the Paladin team continues to build their company — demoing a “minimally viable product” that combines both hardware and software sides to five different fire departments at once this coming Thursday, according to Shrivastava.

The drone market is marked by barriers, Dominguez Hooper said. Additionally, Paladin’s focus on the public sector has elongated the otherwise speed-conscious startup market, Shrivastava said.

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, Berkeley abides by state and federal drone regulations, but the city does not have any additional policy.

“Of all the technical difficulties we’ve faced, coming up with a new name has been the hardest,” Shrivastava said. The name Paladin is “up in the air” at the moment because of a pre-existing company with the same name.

“As soon as we start proving to people that this is saving lives — that’s the biggest message that we want to get across,” Shrivastava said.

Audrey McNamara is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.