While some drones have played the villain in recent media reports covering firefighting efforts, a plan to deploy a fleet of autonomous drones may extinguish concerns and dampen UAV naysayers when it comes to battling blazes.
Researchers at Olin College and MIT have joined forces with UAV firm Scientific Systems to develop a vanguard of self-flying UAVS that could gather airborne, real-time data to send to crews fighting dangerous wildfires.
The NASA contract (one of several drone-driven firefighting projects) is being led by engineering Prof. Andrew Bennett of Olin. Many DRONELIFE readers may recognize Bennett as one of the research leads for the “snotbot” drone being developed by Olin for non-intrusive whale research. The professor tells the Boston Herald that he and a team of students have been testing the aircraft at local collegiate athletic fields to simulate conditions in a forest.
The drones won’t be able to literally fight the fires but they will converge to create real-time data sets for firefighters and other emergency officials. Logistical data can help experts pinpoint how the fire is likely to spread and how best to deploy on-the-ground crews.
“Normally systems that track fires aren’t real-time. People will receive alerts and information about fires 12 to 24 hours after the fact. As a result, we end up playing catch up with forest fires,” Bennett stated in a recent interview. Bennett adds that the system will be redundant and robust to address battery-life problems. “If anything starts going wrong with a drone, like if it has low battery or fuel,” he said. “The system knows and it will ask for another drone to be sent out as a replacement.”
The project has piqued the interest of firefighting officials. Chief Fire Warden David Celino of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation told the Herald that having real time information would definitely help save property and maybe lives.
“No matter how futuristic the technology is, you still go back to the fundamentals of firefighting: Success in trying to get containment or control over a fire is all about gathering the size-up information — the intelligence about what’s going on with the fire,” he said.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
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