With climate change raising temperatures, wildfires have been a growing concern for many countries around the world. Keeping these fires under control can be an incredibly dangerous job. Can drones add their own weight to the role?
Researchers at the University of Nebraska are building just such a drone to help to safely manage the growing number of wildfires unfolding around the world.
“Unmanned aerial devices have the potential to carry out key resource management strategies and could help us deal with something as big as the international increase in severe wildfires,” the team says.
Robot fire fighters
The team believe that the new drones could eventually take the place of manned aircraft and hotshot firefighting teams that are currently used in wildfire fighting scenarios.
I wrote recently about a project to provide drones with 3D mapping capabilities that allow them to fly themselves, and whilst it isn’t clear whether they will be operated automatically, they will be sufficiently equipped to survive the harsh environments with limited supervision.
“The idea is to provide a safe mechanism for people to perform fire management tasks with less risk and higher efficiency,” the team say.
The drones have already been put through their paces in an indoor environment, and it is hoped that they will be approved for field testing by the FAA early next year.
A central plank of the drones work will be to undertake what is known as prescribed burns. These are controlled fires used to burn off specified areas of grassland to eliminate invasive species and reduce the risk of wildfire.
They are currently under-utilized because of the understandable safety concerns, both to those involved and those who may get embroiled in a poorly managed process.
The drones have an interesting cargo consisting of pingpong sized balls that are full of potassium permanganate powder. Each ball is injected with liquid glycol prior to be dropped, which creates fire after a short time lag.
By using drones, it will be possible to drop these balls in a precise pattern over any landscape in a safe and efficient manner. It will be fascinating to see how they perform when given the green light by the FAA. Watch this space.
Check out the video below to see the drone in action.