First Security Drone System Startup (Nightingale)

By Ethan Ace, Published Apr 27, 2015, 12:00am EDT

Governments have used unmanned drones for years, but they have remained the stuff of science fiction in the commercial security market.

Enter Nightingale, a startup aiming to bring drones to commercial security, with automated operation, live and archived video streaming, routine patrols, and high-end features not seen in consumer drones. Here's their marketing video:

Inside this note, we share our findings from speaking with Nightingale, examining this system, its features, functions, and its security application potential.

Drone SaaS

Nightingale is positioning itself as a Drone SaaS for security, providing a cloud-based control, viewing, and recording system for one or more drones. Operators control these drones via a web-based or mobile device app, allowing for:

  • Geo-fencing and patrols: Users define their property, which drones may not leave, by drawing a geo-fence in this app. Routine patrols may also be drawn, with the drone following these preset patterns on a schedule or when manually initiated.
  • Alarm response: Users may also simply tap a point on a map to send one or more drones to the location. Doing this does not follow a specific route, simply the fastest path to the point.
  • Live and archive viewing: Finally, the app is used to view live video as well as cloud-based archives. Multiple drones may be viewed at once, allowing different cameras (IR, thermal, low light, etc.) to view one area for alternate views. No storage plans or expected duration are available at this time.

This video shows a short test flight, with the drone sent to a specific point, then recalled. It can be seen taking off and proceeding in the proper direction without human control:

Drone/Camera Hardware

Nightingale claims to be hardware agnostic, allowing for different drones to be used depending on the payload and conditions on site. Additionally, they are camera and sensor agnostic, with these options limited by what the drone is capable of carrying. Prices vary widely, depending on drone size and payload, with compact drones starting at ~$1000 USD retail (not including camera), and larger 8 or 12 rotor models selling for $10,000+.

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Video and control data are sent and received via LTE (4G and upcoming XLTE), so no wi-fi infrastructure is required at the site, which may be a significant expense in larger multi-acre sites. Nightingale says early models are streaming VGA at 15-19 FPS over LTE without issue, though camera performance will vary depending on type and resolution.

When not in use, or when low on battery, drones autonomously land and charge using a landing pad with a contact charging system [link no longer available], seen here:

Pricing and Availability

The full system will consist of initial hardware cost, for drones, pads, other hardware, and setup, as well as recurring costs for cloud storage and service use, and optional on-site maintenance. Nightingale is currently finalizing pricing, with plans to release their service in Q3 2015. 

They are currently self-funded, with plans to start a seed round in the next few months.

3rd Party Integration

Nightingale has not integrated their system to VMS platforms via ONVIF or otherwise, with video and control performed only via their apps. However, they have performed some preliminary video integration with some video systems, though they declined to say which. They told us that integration was planned for future releases.

US FAA Requirements

Entities wishing to operate drones for commercial security or other purposes must request a permit from the FAA, called a 333 Exemption. There is no cost for this permit process. Upcoming regulations (Small UAS Rule [link no longer available]) are expected to cover commercial use of drones, eliminating the need for these exemptions, but there is no timeline for adoption.

Nightingale Team

On paper, the Nightingale team [link no longer available] has good credentials / experiences to build such a product / service. That said, the company says they are bootstrapping currently and starting a seed round.

Potential Impact

It is impossible to accurately gauge how well the company will do. Until they have a production product and pricing set, it is primarily a concept and a technology demonstration.

However, if they can deliver on what they are aiming to do, we do see this as providing value for larger scale, larger area security users who need a better way to surveil wide areas and get a camera closer to a potential threat.

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