BC-based Lightship Works using AI to aid first responders with natural disasters

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Lightship Works, a SaaS startup based in Kamloops, BC, is integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into its disaster response mobile application to help first responders during natural disasters and other critical incidents.

“We are witnessing a trend where natural disasters are becoming more complex, frequent, and of higher intensity than ever.”
– Jaethan Reichel, Lightship

Lightship Works develops mobile applications that take updates from first responders and recovery agencies and combine it with data from infrastructure, weather services, sensors, and real-time tracking of people and equipment in disaster scenarios. The startup has joined forces with IBM Canada to integrate the AI through IBM Watson on the IBM Cloud. Lightship Works said the partnership with IBM will allow them to quickly learn and discern large amounts of information, like real-time and forecast data, and then feed those insights back into the application for ongoing updates.

“Technology is a game-changer that augments [the] capacity of first responders and recovery agencies,” said Jaethan Reichel, CEO and co-founder of Lightship Works. “We are witnessing a trend where natural disasters are becoming more complex, frequent, and of higher intensity than ever, so it is really important that the technology be easy to use but also incredibly stable, secure, and responsive. That is one of the reasons we decided to work with IBM.”

Lightship Works’s field operations platform provides comprehensive incident response, in-field data collection, and asset management solutions to large industry, local government, and emergency management organizations. The startup’s goal is to provide a “common operating picture” that allows all involved in an emergency scenario to share information with each other and view all the data that is being collected during the ongoing event.

The application brings together the four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery. Across all these phases, Lightship Works claims to give authorized agencies, like fire, police, local governments, and recovery nonprofits, access to real-time data. If, for example, trees go down or roads become covered with mud, Lightship Works’ system can quickly warn response crews to map safer routes. Lightship Works says it can also provide individual first responders with personalized views of the information they need, when they need it.

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Lightship Works was founded in 2015 by a team with an industrial background in the natural resources sector. They had originally wanted to build a field operations platform for natural resource corporations in sectors like oil and gas.

“At some point, through interacting with some of those people that had emergency needs, we figured out that we [had] built this thing that was really, really great at responding to the types of emergencies that we’re starting to see more and more of,” Reichel told BetaKit. “The story that we’re proud to be part of is building things that are going to help the communities that we live in.”

The co-founder said the software is essentially a desktop application designed to be a neutral resting place for data sitting across multiple applications. The software is built to take in all information and filter it based on a user’s role or assignment in an emergency response situation.

“The story that we’re proud to be part of is building things that are going to help the communities that we live in.”

“The way that government procurement in these large agencies works is there’s a certain amount of risk that they just can’t ignore,” Reichel said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re so excited about the partnership with IBM. Because we can be this just scrappy, innovative company who’s built this great tool, but at the end of the day, walking in with a bunch of guys that have PhDs and extensive experience and the backing of a billion dollars in research [that’s] the thing that’s allowed us to get into opportunities now all over the globe.”

Reichel told BetaKit the collaboration with IBM came from a set of trade tours hosted by Innovate BC, a provincial agency that funds entrepreneurial support programs. The purpose of those trade missions was to explore interesting projects and ventures taking place in the province, outside of Vancouver, Reichel said.

“When we met Lightship Works through Innovate BC, we immediately recognized the value they had already created with their application, and we wanted to help further enhance that solution to help address advanced information integration,” said John Longbottom, senior innovation development executive of Western Canada with IBM.

By hosting its mobile application on IBM Cloud, Lightship Works said it will be able to integrate new services like ‘Watson Speech to Text’ and natural language processing into its solution.

Reichel said Lightship has already helped with several real-world initiatives, including the clean-up of Grand Forks, BC after it suffered record-setting floods in 2018. The startup has also played a role in wildfire protection and emergency response in BC, something it’s hoping to take to a global stage. The North Shore Emergency Management in Greater Vancouver is currently working with Lightship Works on research and development. Lightship’s team currently sits at 20 people, and the startup noted it is looking to hire for several positions.

“This technology is intended to enhance and improve emergency management processes and has significantly helped our teams,” said Mike Andrews, deputy director at North Shore Emergency Management. “When we are in a crisis scenario, there is a critical dependence on reliable technology for things like situational awareness, resource requesting, rapid damage assessment, and evacuation notification tracking. It’s vital that it works.”

Image courtesy Unsplash

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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