At 14 Blake Resnick, CEO and founder of Brinc Drones, enrolled as a freshman at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. You could say that was the beginning of his engineering career. But that would be wrong.
Years before he started college, Resnick had become fascinated with aeronautical engineering and had built a variety of radio-controlled aircraft and hobby drones at his parents’ Las Vegas home. “If I could have built a full-scale manned jet aircraft in the garage, I would have. But that would have been a bit much,” he says.
Resnick’s entire career has been a bit much…but in a good way.
Before he could legally drive, he was interning at McLaren Automotive and Tesla Motors. “I think I was McLaren’s youngest ever engineering intern, and I actually got parts on a production car. If you find yourself under a 720S, you’ll see some stuff I designed,” he says. Another of Resnick’s college internships was in the R&D department of the world’s largest drone maker, China’s DJI.
Meeting Vegas SWAT
Resnick became even more interested in drones after the October 1, 2017, active shooter attack on a country music festival in his hometown. During the attack, which killed 61 and wounded hundreds, Las Vegas Metro Police responded with all the tools at their disposal, but Resnick noticed they could have used more effective intelligence gathering technologies. He concluded that police needed purpose-built tactical drones that can fly inside buildings.
So he called Vegas Metro SWAT to convince them of that need. And to his surprise, they answered.
Days later the young inventor found himself having coffee with the SWAT team’s commander. And the SWAT team commander found himself sitting across from an 18-year-old who was telling him his agency needed better drones, and…he could make them.
You would expect a veteran SWAT commander to be skeptical that this “kid” knew what he was talking about. He probably was. But he heard Resnick out. After all, the teenager was so enthusiastic about making better police drones and it was clear he had the skills and experience to actually build a prototype.
The commander told Resnick about the challenges Vegas Metro SWAT faced not just in active shooter attacks but in day-to-day operations like warrant service, barricades, hostage situations, and more. “I walked away from that meeting thinking if they only had a tool to quickly get eyes and ears in dangerous places that would save the lives of SWAT operators and suspects,” Resnick says.
He built a prototype, and proudly presented it to the Vegas Metro SWAT team. “And…They hated it,” Resnick says with a laugh.
He went back to the virtual drawing board. And…They also hated the next prototype. After that the commander realized that Resnick needed more knowledge about SWAT’s techniques and tactics in order to make a tool his team could use. He invited the engineer to go on calls. “I would drive out, give them the latest version of the drone, and watch them use it. I would see what worked and what didn’t work and then I would reengineer it,” Resnick says.
All that fine-tuning led to the first production tactical drone from Brinc, the Lemur. And by 2019, Resnick was in the tactical drone business, selling his products to a number of public safety customers.
By 2021, the Lemur was revised into the Lemur S. “That was like a mid product lifecycle refresh,” Resnick says of the Lemur S. “We took a lot of the feedback we had received from users of the Lemur and incorporated them into the revision.”
But the company couldn’t do everything the users wanted in an update. So Resnick and his team started working on a next generation of the Lemur, the Lemur 2.
Resnick says the Lemur 2 can do everything the Lemur S does and it does it better..except for a slight reduction in flight time. Which was the result of the addition of numerous new capabilities. The Lemur 2 can stay aloft for around 25 minutes, while the Lemur S had a flight time of 30 minutes.
The additional capabilities of the Lemur 2 are likely to make most law enforcement users willing to sacrifice five minutes of flight. “Lemur 2 is an enormous upgrade,” Resnick says.
Sensors and Cameras
One of the biggest upgrades on the Lemur 2 is that the drone is now much easier to pilot, which is critical for a radio-controlled flying machine that is designed to operate indoors. “Lemur and Lemur S, they take some flying skill,” Resnick says. “You really have to stay on the control sticks to navigate, for example, a tight hallway.
“With the Lemur 2, you really don’t have to do that anymore,” he says. “It has an onboard three lidar sensor, so it’s projecting infrared laser patterns on walls and surfaces. When they reflect back into the sensor, it’s able to generate about a half million points per second as its flying around, and it generates full 3D maps.”
The Lemur 2 uses its lidar for navigation. “It’s basically teaching the drone where it is in the world,” Resnick says. “That enables you to take your hands off of the sticks at any time. When you do, the drone will just stop and hover in mid air.” He explains that a lot of drone manufacturers use GPS for this signal, but that’s a problem for drones designed to fly indoors. “Roofs eat GPS signals,” he says.
Another benefit of the Lemur 2’s sophisticated lidar sensor is obstacle avoidance, which is critical when flying the drone into a residence or office building or attic full of objects and even people. “It’s basically always trying to figure out if you are likely to crash into something. If it thinks you are about to crash into something, it starts automatically reducing your speed,” Resnick says.
The 3D mapping provided by the Lemur 2’s lidar sensor can be a critical asset during a tactical operation. As the drone maps its location, it sends that 3D data to the controller and to Live Ops, Brinc’s mobile device app. Using the app, operators can make a 2D floorplan of the interior of the building from the 3D data gathered by the drone. “That gives you a huge amount of situational awareness,” Resnick says.
Upgraded lighting and high-definition cameras on the Lemur 2 also provide a tactical advantage for users. Improved lighting features include a white light strobe for disorienting suspects and masking the exact location of the drone, and an infrared illuminator for night vision operations. Improved camera features include 4K low latency video streaming. “The Lemur S relied on an analog video transmission system. It looked like 1970s television. This looks like digital HD, modern, crisp video,” Resnick says.
Thermal imaging is another major addition to the Lemur 2. “You can see someone hiding under some blankets,” Resnick says. The thermal imaging on the Lemur 2 has also been used in recent natural disasters to search for survivors.
The new Lemur 2 has onboard 4G LTE cellular capability. “It’s basically a flying cell phone that a crisis negotiator can use to communicate with the suspect and try to de-escalate the situation,” Resnick says, he add that the suspect does not have to get close to the drone to hear the negotiator or to speak back. “It has a high-powered speaker and a sensitive microphone,” he explains.
That 4G LTE capability also allows the Lemur 2 to share data with any authorized person using Brinc’s Live Ops app. “That’s a big deal,” Resnick says. “It’s one thing to get video inside of the structure, it’s another thing to share that video to everyone who is a stakeholder in the event. That was a major focus in the development of this product,” he adds.
Another useful communications feature on the Lemur 2 is that it can build a self-healing mesh network. This means that multiple drones can be flown into an area or building to extend the radio signal for controlling the drone. Signal loss can be a major issue inside a large building with concrete walls like a school or a shopping mall or a warehouse. “What you can do with the Lemur 2 is fly one drone in the building, land it, and use it as basically a repeater. Then you can use that drone to boost the control signal for the next drone you fly into the building,” Resnick explains.
Adding all the sensors and high-tech capabilities to the Lemur 2 was not easily accomplished. Resnick says the Lemur 2 was in development for 18 months. That’s a lifetime in the rapidly evolving drone business.
But perhaps the most difficult task Brinc faced in the engineering of the Lemur 2 was achieving compliance with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which regulates the origin of parts in drones used by U.S. agencies, including the military and federal law enforcement. NDAA-compliant drones can’t use cameras, sensors, software, and other potential data gathering and transmission components that are made in China. And not using Chinese parts in the production of a small drone is challenging.
Almost all of the world’s non-military drones and the parts for such drones are made in China, specifically in one city Shenzen. “Building drones without using components from Shenzen is incredibly hard,” Resnick says. “You can’t just buy a bunch of parts and integrate them together. You have to design them from scratch and then find American manufacturers that are capable of replicating these kinds of systems. You have to build the supply chain along with the product.” Despite the difficulty in making the Lemur 2 without critical Chinese parts, Resnick says all that effort was worth it. “It’s important to guarantee American data security and American supply chain independence. We decided from the beginning that we wanted to take this on.”
Resnick says that all of the parts on the Lemur 2 that are capable of capturing data or any component with circuitry such as sensors, cameras, memory, and radios were made in the U.S. The only parts that were made in China are rotors, motor windings, and other parts that do not collect or transmit data.
Drones Vs. Robots
The Lemur 2 from Brinc was not designed to compete with hobby drones or even some of the inexpensive drones that some agencies operate. It was purpose-built for dangerous tactical missions, especially indoor SWAT operations.
Resnick argues that law enforcement agencies inquiring about the Lemur 2 should compare its cost and capabilities to those of tactical robots. “When you price us against throw robots or tracked tactical robots, our stuff is actually a bargain,” he says.
It also offers some tactical advantages over robots. Robots can move very slowly and take considerable time to gather intelligence inside a building. They also can’t fly up staircases or into attics. The Lemur 2—like the Lemur S that it replaces—can even break through windows and fly into upper stories of homes and buildings.
The Lemur 2 is now available.