AUSTIN (KXAN) — “IMPACT lab stands for ‘Innovative Manufacturing Partnerships Accelerating Central Texas,” Eric Hepburn said — and that’s exactly what it’s doing with its latest project. Hepburn is the manager of IMPACT lab at Austin Community College and it is working with a local startup called Zpryme to create a one-of-a-kind drone.

“Obviously, to be frank, we have a long way to go, but a lab like here — the IMPACT lab — is a starting point and allows us to develop these really creative ideas that otherwise we wouldn’t have access just because there’s millions of dollars of technology in here,” said Jason Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of Zpryme.

He adds, “So for us small companies startup, it’s just a game changer because it allows us to innovate and allow Sam to leverage his skills and expertise to take some of the designs and — and prototypes he has to the next level. So now we have a lab and tools and resources to be able to really advance a lot of the ideas that he has.”

He’s talking about Zpryme’s Director of Engineering Technology, Sam Kodo. Kodo was named top 50 influential people in West Africa in 2020. He is famous for building robots almost entirely from scratch as early as the age of 9.

Under Kodo’s leadership, Zpryme is creating an advanced sensing drone to reduce the impact of a severe weather event and the response strategy after the event occurs. This can help utility workers responding to downed power lines and assist them in preventing fires or power outages.

“So the drone will collect a bunch of data. And so the operator will be able to predict if something is happening in this specific area. So it also could be used for assessment after a natural disaster. So maybe to save lives,” Kodo said.

This couldn’t have been done without the help of this collaboration, Kodo said.

“Because also, in my home country, we don’t have a 3D printer or CNC machine to design great prototypes like the project I’m currently working on. So having this opportunity to work with those machines will take my project to the next level,” Sam said.

Zpryme’s drone will be designed, built and tested in ACC’s lab. This, in return, helps the students at ACC get to have real-world learning experiences and participate. It’s part of ACC’s manufacturing incubator, a program that works with new businesses setting up shop in Central Texas.

This advanced commercial sensing drone offers enhanced cameras and sensors. LIDAR, which stands for “Light Detection and Ranging,” is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distances.

These drones can sense if an electrical wire is live or not, which could prevent injury or even death of a utility worker who would normally have to be there on site and in person.

“We’re trying to bring the technology to another level using the data and the sensing technology, to — to actually predict like, ‘is it safe enough even to go check on it to area?'” Rodriguez said.

These drones will even have protective material to protect from strong magnetic fields near high voltage lines.

“We’re just very excited to have the idea the opportunity to innovate and that, as innovative as Austin is, to give companies like ours continued chance to grow and expand, is what this community is all about. It’s how we bring new people and new ideas to the community. So just very thankful to have this great partnership,” Rodriguez said.