Polytechnic co-founded company creates new search-and-rescue drone for first responders

Uniform Sierra Aerospace, a company that builds small, unmanned aircraft systems, has launched its Panther drone for outdoor operations. (Photo provided by Uniform Sierra Aerospace)

As reported by the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF), the Purdue alumni-founded drone company Uniform Sierra Aerospace has launched its Panther drone for the marketplace.

Uniform Sierra’s new Panther drone model, PRF says, is built in the United States and made for “first responders [in] search-and-rescue cases in outdoor settings.”

The company specializes in drone manufacturing specifically for public safety departments, including police departments, fire departments and emergency management agencies. Purdue alumni Duncan Mulgrew, Trevor Redpath and Jeremy Frederick founded Uniform Sierra Aerospace.

Mulgrew and Redpath (CEO and COO respectively) are both graduates of Purdue Polytechnic’s degree in unmanned aerial systems, an offering from the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology that teaches graduates to be drone technology experts.

“The primary challenge of outdoor operations is being able to operate no matter the weather conditions at the time,” Mulgrew said. “In the event of a missing person case that requires search and rescue, our users can’t afford to ground their drone fleet if it’s windy or raining.”

Mulgrew said Panther can fly in higher winds than other UAS and is waterproofed to a level that allows it to fly in rain and snow. Other key features for outdoor use are its sensor package, speed, flight time, compliance with FAA regulations for night operations and low detectability. 

“Panther’s sensor package is mechanically stabilized and includes both a 40x zoom camera and a thermal camera, which allows operators to conduct searches and observations at long ranges and high speeds,” Mulgrew said.

“It can fly for more than 45 minutes and cruise at 50 miles per hour in the right conditions, allowing it to cover more ground than competitive systems, which is critical in search-and-rescue and drone-as-first-responder use cases. It also is compliant with FAA night flying rules, so it can be legally and safely deployed at any time of day.

“Also, to ensure the safety of our operators in potentially dangerous deployments, Panther is built to be challenging to see and hear from the ground,” Mulgrew added. “Even when it is as close to 300 feet to a subject, in the right conditions it is impossible to hear over ambient noise.”

In 2023 Purdue Innovates awarded $100,000 to Uniform Sierra Aerospace. The company moved to a new production facility in the Purdue Technology Center, a business incubator in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette.

Read PRF’s story about the Uniform Sierra’s new Panther drone here.

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