Pittsburgh drone developers hope to use new technology to save lives

Pittsburgh drone developers hope to use new technology to save lives

PITTSBURGH — A drone being developed in Pittsburgh is turning lots of heads because of how quickly it can work. Its creator spoke with Channel 11’s Katherine Amenta about how he hopes to use the technology to save lives in the future.

The Boomerang is programmed to have a mind of its own and creates 3-D data in minutes.%

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“A lot of people think they can just go on the Internet and buy one. They don't realize it’s not as easy as it looks,” Chris DiBon, a superintendent at Mascaro Construction, said.

DiBon’s construction team is currently building a new VA healthcare center in Butler. His team is one of two dozen construction or frackiing companies across the country embracing the new technology created by Dick Zhang.

Zhang, 22, said each of his drones is programmed for a specific location and flight pattern. The device them takes off on its own, captures hundreds of photos, comes back and lands all on its own.

“It will take a picture every few seconds,” Zhang said. “And then the software and the cloud will stitch it and turn it into a 3-D model.”

Zhang’s team at Identified Technologies creates models of the Boomerang in their Pittsburgh headquarters. Among its current achievements, the Boomerang has helped detect an impending landslide.

“It helped them realize a landslide was happening so that they could bottle it up and prevent a disaster,” Zhang said.

Before the Boomerang, it could take weeks, $25,000 and a plane to get that same information. With the Boomerang, the same process takes 22 minutes.

Zhang said he plans to offer the drone with the next few years to firefighters and police who might use it to search for missing children or suspects.

“I think the key there is speed. Speed to data, speed to information and the ability to make decisions,” he said.

The new technology could also protect homes. Zhang said he plans to add features to detect problems at fracking sites.

“We can also implement gas sensors and infrared and be able to detect leaks along the way,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is currently studying an expansion that may bore through the Allegheny Mountains, and Zhang said he’s in talks to join that project.