The sky is no longer the limit for an Arlington Heights man and his Chicago-based firm which developed and patented a personal security smartphone app.
The latest innovation of LifeLine Response founder Peter Cahill and his team is the ability for their app to automatically summon an aerial drone, as well as police, to the scene of an attack.
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The feature, along with an upgraded type of drone, will become available in 30 days. About 30 college, corporate and hospital campuses have already signed on to be among the first to use it nationwide, Cahill said.
Officials from Cahill's company, Clandestine Development LLC, gave a demonstration of the new technology Tuesday at Sunset Meadows Park in Arlington Heights.
The app has two settings which alert a call center in Erie, Pennsylvania. One activates as soon as someone who feels in a dangerous situation takes his or her thumb off the app's "dummy switch." The other setting works if a preset time elapses without the user entering a code to cancel the first alert.
The app previously only alerted the call center to call 911. But now an aerial drone -- in locations where their use is allowed -- can be flown immediately to the scene of an attack or emergency, Cahill said.
Action on the part of the call center or local authorities is not necessary to activate the drone, but they can subsequently take control of the machine to decide whether to keep its camera trained on a fleeing attacker or a victim left behind.
Although the drone used in Tuesday's demonstration was a prototype, the one that will be used in practice will be equipped with speakers to issue warnings and alerts just as the phone app itself does.
Giacomo Listi, chief information officer for the company, said that while the drone is intended to collect information from the scene, its highest priority is to scare off an attacker and prevent injury. The drone makes no secret of its presence when it arrives.
The company Tuesday demonstrated a situation in which a woman is attacked while walking alone. As soon as her thumb came off her phone, it began making a distinct audio warning and indicating that police have been notified of the victim's identity and location.
The drone was immediately activated as well, flying the length of the park within 30 seconds and hovering over the site of the attack.
Cahill and his team showed how the drone can stay with victim until further help arrives or follow an attacker who flees.
While regulations of drones differ from state to state, there are none prohibiting LifeLine Response's plans. In Illinois, drones cannot be used for unauthorized reconnaissance, but the activation of the LifeLine Response app provides probable cause for their use -- just as it already provides probable cause for police to enter a property.
As far as flight regulations for the drones, they must remain below 1,500 to 2,000 feet depending on the city, and stay several miles away from airports, Cahill said. The drones can travel at up to 65 mph.
The new drones and their use has been patented by LifeLine Response, Listi said. A successful patent requires that a company be the first to file and first to invent -- criteria LifeLine Response already has met.
Company officials said they were not yet able to reveal the initial customers for the drones. But Cahill hinted that Chicago-area residents will recognize one well-known local company.
While the initial customers are the owners of specific campuses, it's possible that entire municipalities may grant permission for their use in the future, he added.
The price of the app will remain at its current $9.99 a year.