Drones Help Firefighters Analyze, Battle Blazes

Written by Kevin Volz.

Firefighters arriving on the scene of a major blaze often rely on aerial data from helicopters to quickly analyze and plan for the best way to fight it. This time-consuming procedure can take up to two hours, at which point the fire is often out of control. To help make this process as efficient as possible, Hephaestus Limited, a startup in Toledo, Ohio, has developed drones that give firefighters a way to assess a situation – no helicopter required.

“Our system gives firefighters the view they are looking for, and allows them to quickly make decisions and save lives,” said Connor Kress, CEO of Hephaestus.

The company, named after the Greek god of fire, offers a base drone model that uses an HD camera, allowing firefighters to see a blaze in real time. Their premium drone model uses a military-grade thermal camera that can pinpoint locations where the fire is the hottest, and show heat signatures on building walls.

Kress started Hephaestus in 2013 after discovering that firefighting drones currently on the market were made with plastic, and were not well-designed to sustain exposure to high temperatures. Some were even combustible! To combat this issue, Hephaestus drones are designed with new heat-resistant material they’ve developed in-house.

“Our drones can withstand temperatures above 900 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Kress. “They can resist the stresses that happen in a fire, are designed to military specifications and can handle getting wet. $100,000 is standard for a drone like this, but ours sell for less than $10,000, thanks to the technology and manufacturing process we’ve created.”

Hephaestus is currently located in LaunchPad, an Ohio Third Frontier-funded incubator in Toledo. The founding team and new hires are all engineers, so the entrepreneurial business expertise they’ve gained from working with LaunchPad is extremely beneficial. They’ve learned how to identify trends in their industry and develop products that fill customer needs.

“LaunchPad’s team has been absolutely essential,” said Kress. “They’ve guided us through the difficult and time-consuming entrepreneurship process. We’ve learned so much and their mentorship has really helped forge our company.”

The Hephaestus team looked at incubators all over the country – and one in London – before making the decision to stay in Toledo.

“We realized that the mentorship available in Toledo would be too great of a loss if we decided to start our business elsewhere. It’s easy to get to know a lot of the big players in the city and I’m not sure we would find that anywhere else,” said Kress. “We love Toledo and are committed to staying here. It’s an affordable place to start a company that actually allows entrepreneurs to spend money on capital.”

Hephaestus is currently in the process of raising a third round of funding, and is working on solutions to manufacture their drones at a lower cost. The company has six employees, three of them full-time. LaunchPad’s proximity to the University of Toledo gives Hephaestus a great opportunity to access the next generation of engineers for future team expansion. The company’s goal is to have its first product release this summer.

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