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UH introduces new innovation-focused programs

In the fall semester of 2019, undergraduate students can choose to minor or major in a few new innovation programs. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

The University of Houston took a step forward in educating Houston's future innovators. The university has created two minor programs and a major focused on innovation.

Undergraduate students now have the option to major or minor in Technology Leadership and Innovation Management or minor in Applied Innovation. All three options begin in the fall semester of this year in the College of Technology. According to the college's dean, Anthony P. Ambler, the college is also interested in adding a master's and a PhD. program in Innovation Management or a post-graduate certificate program.

"We are about giving people the right tools to innovate," says Ambler in a release. "How do you get more people to the position where they are able to innovate?"

All of the programs are affiliated with two out-of-state institutions: the University of Maine's Foster Center for Innovation and Ohio-based Innovation Engineering.

UH previously offered Innovation Leadership classes, and one was taught by David Crawley. His class and the new programs focus on the tools students need to develop "to solve problems and develop meaningfully unique opportunities," Crawley says in the release.

"I always thought of creativity as something that comes upon you in the middle of the night, or in the shower," says Ahmad Mohamad, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering technology, who took Crawley's class last semester. "But there are techniques you can learn to help you come up with these creative solutions."

The Technology Leadership major replaces the Organization Leadership and Supervision degree, but students currently majoring in this program will be able to continue on with the new degree program, according to the release.

"Learning how to innovate — how to identify unmet needs, creatively develop solutions, and then bring them to reality – amplifies the workplace value of all other technical and business skills," says John Jeffers, director of geosciences at Southwestern Energy, in the release. "Whether innovating within an organization as an "intrapreneur", or stepping out to create something new, people who are familiar with the mindset and practice of innovation have an enormous advantage."

These programs aren't the only thing UH is doing to advance innovation in Houston. The university has recently revamped its Energy Research Park to be the Technology Bridge. The institution provides space and resources for early-stage, research-based startups. Read more about the UH Technology Bridge here.

Courtesy of UHAnthony Ambler is the dean of the UH College of Technology.

Paladin Drones wants eyes in the skies within 30 seconds of an emergency call. Getty Images

When 911 is called, first responders usually arrive at the scene around three or four minutes after the call's placed. But Houston-based Paladin Drones wants to have eyes on the ground ­— or eyes in the sky — within the first 30 seconds.

The company's mission is simple: to outfit public agencies and first-responders with drones that can be autonomously deployed to the site of an emergency. Equipped with thermal sensors and flying around 200 feet high, the drones can give police and firefighters near-instantaneous information on a situation underway.

At the beginning of April, Paladin Drones began working with the Memorial Villages Police Department to respond to incidents in Memorial Villages, Hunter's Creek, Piney Point Village, and Bunker Hill.

"(This is) one of the first departments in the country to be testing this technology," says Paladin Drones co-founder Divyaditya Shrivastava. "We're very limited in the area that we cover, and that's just because we're taking baby steps and going as carefully and deliberately as possible."

Paladin Drones was co-founded by Shrivastava and Trevor Pennypacker. In 2018, the company went through a three-month boot camp at Y Combinator, a California-based incubator that's churned out Dropbox, AirBNB, Instacart and more. Through Y Combinator, Paladin Drones was connected with venture capital investors in Houston.

The company's drones capture critical information, such as a vehicle's color and body type, a suspect's clothing, or the direction a suspect fled the scene. And since roughly 70 percent of 911 calls involve witnesses or passerby giving inaccurate information about the emergency's location, these drones will be able to pinpoint the exact location of an emergency, further aiding the arrival of first responders.

"We're working on tracking technology to give the drones the capability to auto-follow (suspects)," Shrivastava says.

Paladin Drones is looking to hire a handful of employees in the coming months, Shrivastava says. He declined to disclose any information on the company's funding plans, but said it's still involved with Y Combinator in California.

Shrivastava began developing Paladin Drones when he was finishing high school in Ohio. The summer before his senior year, a friend's house burned down. While nobody was injured in the fire, the home was destroyed, and Shrivastava spoke with the local firefighters. Tragically, the 911 call that alerted firefighters of the emergency was one of the 70 percent of calls that involved inaccurate location information.

"If they'd known the exact location, the house would've been saved," Shrivastava says. "A fire doubles every 30 seconds."