Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are developing a new drone that may help stop the spread of wildfires by starting smaller fires.
The Unmanned Aerial System for Fire Fighting is the brain-child of several university disciplines including drone technology, fire ecology, conservation and public policy.
With the increased growth of devastating wildfires, team member Dirac Twidwell says a drone that can ignite controlled burns could help save lives and help preserve natural resources.
“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,” Twidwell said in a university press release.
Researchers hope the drone can also eradicate some invasive species, such as the Eastern Red Cedar, which decimates grassland plants, “collapses forage production important to the beef industry and contributes to dangerous wildfires.”
UN-L Drone experts Carrick Detweiler and Sebastian Elbaum hope to see UAVs used in place of “manned aircraft and hotshot firefighting teams in some wildfire-fighting situations.”
New technology will allow the drones to ignite and monitor stop-gap fires and will be able to operate in harsh environments with limited supervision.
“The drones carry a cargo of ping-pong-like balls filled with potassium permanganate powder. Before being dropped through a chute, each ball is injected with liquid glycol, creating a chemical reaction-based flame after 10 to 45 seconds,” Detweiler said.
“The idea is to provide a safe mechanism for people to perform fire management tasks with less risk and higher efficiency,” Elbaum said.
Firefighting drone designs continue to heat up the world of UAV innovation (pun intended).
Imaginactive, a Canadian design firm, recently unveiled Firesound, a flying-saucer shaped, firefighting drone design powered by hydrogen fuel cells and lifted by four electric turbofans – kind of like a standard quadcopter topped with a dome.
Still in the conceptual phase, the drone, if successfully manufactured, could theoretically extinguish small fires using sound waves. Researchers have discovered that low bass frequencies between 30 and 60 Hz may extinguish small blazes.
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology recently unveiled Fireproof Aerial Robot System (FAROS) to the firefighting world.
The drone system can not only detect fires in the tallest of skyscrapers, it can also search an engulfed building and transfer real-time data to human firefighters to build a better game plan for extinguishing a blaze. The sensor drones can also withstand blazes in excess of 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit.
In October, Massachusetts-based Olin College announced a partnership with MIT and drone company Scientific Systems to develop a vanguard of self-flying UAVS that can gather airborne, real-time data to send to crews fighting dangerous wildfires. Logistical data can help experts pinpoint how the fire is likely to spread and how best to deploy on-the-ground crews.