(Source: Fire Engineering.com)
Drone technology is developing rapidly. They are already being used by the military, and in some states, also by law enforcement. NC State University is one of the universities at the forefront of this revolution. In the last few years, there has been a wide variety of advanced programs and projects dedicated to drone research at NC State, ranging from new kinds of flight systems to drones that help forest rangers track animals.
Following last year’s first ever Cent-mesh challenge, the professors leading it came up with the idea of the Firefighting Drone Challenge. The objective is to design a drone that is helpful to the firefighters.
After holding meetings with firefighters from different fire departments including the Chapel Hill, North Carolina Fire Department, a new firefighting drone concept was born. Controlled by an operator standing outside of a burning building, the drone provides FPV (first person view) with visual and infrared cameras, and can fly into the building through open windows and doors and identify trapped people and hot spots inside before the firefighters perform a full sweep. To make this all happen quickly, the drone also has on-board autonomous obstacle avoidance technology that steers the drone away from walls, ceilings, and floors. This enables the operator to navigate the drone through the building quickly, without the fear of colliding into anything.
This new concept drone promises to reduce the time to clear a building or find a distressed inhabitant. This will also help save the lives of firefighters, who at this time, have to crawl into buildings and look for survivors using a FLIR camera manually. The new sensors are also low-cost so that the price-point of the drone can be low and affordable to the many underfunded firefighting departments.
The Firefighting Drone Challenge began last year with several teams working in parallel on different modules of the system. The effort in the first six months led to the solution to the most important technology obstacles, among them, a much reduced size of the platform to enable it to more easily fly through door openings, and the verification of a new obstacle avoidance technology. Currently and for the next several months the students will be integrating the newly developed modules as well as refining them. The first prototype is expected to be completed at the end of April 2015, with integrated functionality.