BK: Welcome to HxGN Radio. My name is Brian. Thanks for joining us today. Joining me is Manan Patel, Founder and CEO of Special Operations Solutions, and we are going to be talking about some good stuff today. Thanks for joining us, Manan.
MP: Thanks for having me.
BK: Appreciate it. All right. So, a little bit of an overview for you. Special Operations Solutions specializes in providing highly technical personnel for federal and commercial clients worldwide. They were awarded Hexagon’s Shaping Change Award for developing solutions to enhance firefighting operations. Congratulations, by the way.
MP: Thank you.
MP: It’s exciting.
BK: Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about Special Operations Solutions and the industries that it’s focusing on.
MP: Sure, yeah. We’ve been around now 10 years. Started actually June, so exactly 10 years, in 2008.
BK: Oh, all right. Look at that. Another congratulations.
MP: Yeah, thank you. And we specialize in systems integration, primarily for aviation, aerial remote-sensing applications, so anything from the air, and trying to detect whatever a customer wants on the ground. And we work primarily with airplanes, UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as helicopters. So with that, we provide a lot of technical services, so engineering, which includes design, integration, fabrication, as well as operational support. And then we have a couple of products. And one set is hardware products which includes health-monitoring systems as well as power-distribution units, so not that sexy but valuable, but important.
MP: And then some software products which are geospatial related.
BK: Okay, excellent. All right. So, we just mentioned that you got the Hexagon Shaping Change Award for enhancing the firefighting operations. What are you doing to help firefighters, then?
MP: Yeah, so for firefighters we’re actually providing them in Southern California an aircraft. The aircraft is fully equipped with a infrared as well as color sensor system, full-motion video system. So every night we’re actually flying fires and providing them fire management support. So what that means is we have a camera onboard the aircraft. We are imaging the fire, and showing them exactly how the fire is growing, allowing them to use tools on board the aircraft in real time to create annotations, check the fire perimeter, see how far away it is from the road or where their assets are, and actually tell the units on the ground—the guys that are actually fighting the fire—how to attack it and how to help reduce it and contain it.
BK: Are they able to take care of the fires quicker this way?
MP: Yeah, we think—
BK: More efficiently?
MP: Yeah, exactly.
MP: It provides them efficiency as well as safety. So, being overhead gives them a different perspective, right?
MP: So if the winds change very quickly, the guys in the aircraft can actually radio down to the folks and say, hey, it looks like the fire is on this ridge; and if the winds are now going from east to west, you might want to move some of these assets out of the way.
BK: That’s great.
MP: Or, actually, if it’s getting close to a barrier or something like that, they can actually tell the folks on the ground how to attack it and from which specific angle that they should be going at it.
BK: That’s great.
BK: Very important.
MP: It’s neat.
BK: Yeah. I mean, living in Colorado, we were around those fires a few years ago, you know, that just went crazy almost over the entire state. So, it’s interesting to kind of know how they can even get better and better with all of those.
BK: So, that’s great.
MP: And it’s huge in terms of the different value it adds to their mission, right? So, people think of firefighting as just folks on the ground spraying down a house, or like a house fire—
BK: Sure, yeah.
MP: —is what most people imagine. But these fires in Colorado as well as California are thousands of acres—
MP: —and they take their own life form.
BK: Of course.
MP: And it requires a lot of assets, both on the ground as well as aircraft spraying retardant to help contain these fires.
MP: Every year it seems like they’re getting bigger and bigger.
BK: Yeah. Well, we could go on to another conversation about—
MP: That’s right.
MP: That’s right.
BK: —but it’d be very interesting, so, yeah. Well, very cool. Well, tell us about your work with the National Interagency Fire Center in the U.S., then.
MP: Yeah, that’s right. So, we work with them on a program called NightWatch.
MP: It’s one of the more unique programs with the United States Forest Service, or USFS, and one of the only ones that they actually fly at night. Typically, nighttime flying is a little bit more dangerous in terms of most of the assets are flying low and there’s a lot of terrain involved as these fires are going over canyons and valleys and things like that. So this program’s unique because it’s flying at night. So our camera system that’s on board the aircraft is an infrared system—
MP: —or has infrared capability, which means that it’s detecting thermal signatures.
MP: So at nighttime, we can see everything, including the heat. Kind of similar to what the military uses and basically military grade. So we’re able to actually see the different hotspots, see how they’re fighting the fire, and where there’s potential areas that the fire can start back up. And so they’re using it onboard the aircraft. They’re using our software, GeoFOCIS, to actually record all of that data, archive it into a geospatial database, as well as provide real-time products. So they’re creating products using GeoFOCIS which has LuciadLightspeed embedded in it—
MP: —to actually create the products that get disseminated to their customers. So, onboard the aircraft, with the software, they are recording in a STANAG 4609 format, which is a NATO full-motion video format. So we’re recording the video from the camera as well as telemetry, so all the different angles that we’re looking as well as where the aircraft is flying, and then audio so that the operator onboard the aircraft can actually narrate what he’s seeing. So, that all gets put into a file and distributed to ground users.
BK: Excellent. Well, talk about GeoFOCIS, then.
MP: So, yeah. GeoFOCIS is our GIS software powered by LuciadLightspeed. And for us it’s a moving map display, and what that basically means is we have a dynamic map with a lot of different items or a lot of different information that’s moving; so aircraft that are dynamically moving around, vehicles that are moving around, as well as personnel that are moving around.
MP: And so it’s this 3D moving map display that shows you in your area of interest everything that’s actually happening in the air as well as on the ground and at sea, if you’ve got boats around. And we’re taking various sensor data that we have on board these aircraft, like a video or a radar or hyperspectral, and we’re recording all of that data and putting that into our geospatial database. So we’re recording and archiving it so that you can retrieve it and bring it up later.
MP: And then, with that, we’re also creating other vector layers, or importing vector layers, like road data or hospital information or police stations, and any of that data that’s in our database can be searched for. So, if you have a video feed and you’re zoomed all the way out or in a wide field of view, and you’re looking for all of the fire stations in a specific area or you’re looking for Main Street, we’re able to show you that very easily on board the map as well as on the actual video feed itself.
BK: Okay, okay.
MP: So kind of like augmented reality on the video feed, but you also have that information presented to you on the three-dimensional map.
BK: Okay. And I know you touched on this already, but if you want to give more information on just how that specifically helps firefighters, just even a little bit more, that’d be great.
MP: You know, what the firefighters are able to do is we give them the ability to record all of the data in a nonproprietary format that they’re able to utilize and disseminate to their other users. So if they’re using products from—other software tools, other GIS software tools, they’re able to easily load the information up and actually see the video feed as well as the telemetry data with where they were looking and the different angles that they were looking at. The other piece that we do for them is we’re utilizing all of the video data and putting it on video on terrain. So we’re overlaying the information on the terrain so it allows the personnel to actually see how the fire is, with high-resolution elevation involved—
MP: —so they can see exactly how the fire is in real time and how it’s reacting day to day. So the fire personnel are actually creating map perimeters of the fire, using this software. So, very quickly that they look at our video feed, and on the map they can trace the fire because it’s hot and they’re huge, so they can’t see it very easily on the video feed.
MP: So they trace the fire, and then it exports out as a shapefile, and they do this day to day, and they’re able to actually see the different changes as the fire is growing or, hopefully, not growing.
BK: Exactly. Okay. Okay, excellent. Well, thanks for the explanation on that.
BK: That definitely is, again, very exciting and helpful. So, where do you see Special Operations Solutions going in the future? What’s your goal?
MP: Sure. We—yeah. Lots of goals. We are focusing right now—we provide a lot of technical solutions for our customers, so we’re providing one piece of aerial remote-sensing applications. In the future, we’re looking for customers who need the full solution, full turnkey solution—
MP: —which includes providing the aircraft—
BK: Mm-hmm. Oh.
MP: —providing pilots, mechanics, sensor operators, the maintainers, as well as the analysts. So if you don’t necessarily know how to attack your problem set, if you’ve got security issues for oil and gas industry, we would like to come in and actually provide you a turnkey solution with aircraft, everything that’s included in it. And we do this for a lot of customers already. Currently, most of our customer base is defense as well as other government entities, like the United States Forest Service. But we’re noticing a trend with the international community that they have a need for turnkey solutions. So that’s where we’re focusing on the next few years.
BK: That’s great.
MP: And, hopefully, we’ll see continued growth from it.
BK: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that does make a lot of sense. I mean, otherwise these industries and organizations, etc. are trying to come up with pilots and making sure that they’re kept up on training and they’ve got to have the aircraft and the maintenance. I mean, there’s so much that goes into that, so that really is— It’s simple, I guess, is probably the best way to put it—
MP: That’s right.
BK: —for them, which is what they need.
MP: That’s right. It requires a huge investment, right?
BK: Yeah, absolutely.
MP: I mean, people think it’s just the cost of an aircraft. Well, yeah—
BK: Oh, gosh.
MP: —that’s one component of it.
MP: We do a lot of modification and engineering work—
BK: Yeah, yeah.
MP: —to getting folks like the FAA sign off on it, and then providing training for the personnel, highly specialized skill sets. It’s a huge investment for folks, and we’re seeing that—
MP: —so rather than having our customers make that type of investment, we’re focused more on actually providing that full turnkey solution with ourselves and our partners.
BK: That’s great. Yeah, that makes so much sense. Manan, thank you so much. Appreciate your time, and thanks for sharing all of this.
MP: Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
BK: Absolutely. And if you want more information on this, please go to specopsolutions.com/geofocis. And just in case you’re not sure, GeoFOCIS is spelled G-E-O-F-O-C-I-S. And, again, you can listen to more information, more episodes. Please join us. We’d love to have you there at hxgnspotlight.com. Thank you so much for listening. Have a great day.