CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — As water rescues continue throughout southeast Texas, a Chesapeake-based company may soon be swooping in to help.

DroneUp, an app developed by DART Ventures, gives missions to volunteer pilots. They’ve already received requests from people who need help in Houston and surrounding areas currently underwater.

Tom Walker, founder and CEO, says he planned to launch the app after Labor Day, but he pushed up the start date when he saw the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

“I think it’s a horrible, horrible thing that’s happened in Texas,” said Walker, who believes the vantage point drones offer can be lifesaving.

“The drones can fly very low [and] very slow. They gather a really powerful amount of video and images as they are moving.”

More than 2,000 pilots have signed up in the first five days, according to Walker. He says 320 pilots are in Texas and ready to be deployed for search and rescue. 

“It could be the largest U.S.-based humanitarian response by drones ever,” Walker said.

Pilots have been grounded because of air restrictions from the Federal Aviation Administration; however, the calls for help continue to pour in to DroneUp.

“We got [a call] yesterday where they said, ‘We’re in waist-high water, our cell phones are dying, there’s nobody around us, can you please come look for us?’”

Walker hopes the FAA will allow some of the certified pilots registered on the app to deploy Thursday.

The drones fly at 30-50 miles per hour at less than 400 feet, which is why Walker does not anticipate the unmanned aircraft interrupting helicopters or other rescue crews in the air.

In case of emergency, the app can alert pilots to ground their drones at any time.

“The number one rule we have is that if we ever feel like there is an airspace confliction issue, we just ground the drones. I’d rather have the drones on the ground not searching than in the air creating any potential problems.”

Walker believes drones could be a force multiplier getting to all of the affected areas more quickly.

“If we have an impact on one family, or one life because of our efforts, it would be worth it.”

Walker plans to travel to the Houston area in the coming days to oversee drone pilots using the app.

DroneUp is free for all Apple and Android users and includes some training for pilots.

The FAA currently has a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in place for much of southeast Texas. For a list of flight rules and restrictions, click here.

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