Firefighting drones help fight fires in nature and in cities

How are drones used in firefighting?

Drones have been used for several years to help fight fires. A key function of drones in the context of firefighting is that they provide situational awareness to commanders during inherently chaotic situations.

“Fires generate heat that can have a major impact on local wind and weather conditions,” Xiaolin Hu, director of the Integrated Systems Modeling and Simulation Laboratory at Georgia State University, says the US Department of Agriculture. “The constant interaction between fire and the atmosphere causes dynamic and local changes in wind speed and direction that are not well predicted by standard weather models or expert judgment. Real-time data collected by [drones] can assist firefighters by providing information on the location and spread of fire – and issue an ‘early warning’ to firefighters if they are in danger. “

Drones can fly long distances and, equipped with high-definition cameras, thermal imaging sensors and other equipment, they can provide a real-time view of ground fires and their spread. This, in turn, can help commanders make more informed decisions about how to respond.

A NASA blog post notes that drones are useful tools for “capturing thermal images of the landscape below,” and these thermal signatures “can help determine where firefighters should establish fire containment lines, either bulldozed or dug out. the hand “.

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Like a blog post of the drone company DJI adds that in addition to helping firefighting agencies gain situational awareness, drones can help protect personnel, enable rapid mapping for incident response and disaster recovery, and aid in light controlled burns to stop fires.

Drones can also help with urban fires. The Los Angeles Fire Department has been using drones since 2015, and they have helped improve situational awareness for commanders.

“For example, LAFD frequently receives calls about lost or injured hikers in the Hollywood Hills,” another DJI blog post. “[Search and rescue] missions of this type generally require helicopters, ambulances and other emergency resources. However, with a drone at their fingertips, operational teams can deploy quickly, instantly acquire thermal imagery and imagery, and efficiently allocate resources. “

And, as the experience of the New York City fire department shows, drones can also help monitor firefighters as they enter and inside burning buildings.

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Fire technology meets drones

AI and data analysis technology are combined with drones to improve situational awareness for firefighters. Rick Stratton, US Forest Service Fire Analyst, tells the Thomson Reuters Foundation that researchers were able to create AI models that provide new layers of data that draw on the institutional knowledge of local firefighters.

“Firefighters don’t see much, their careers are short – but now we can model thousands of man-made seasons and pull all kinds of information,” Stratton says. It operates an online dashboard that allows fire departments to get real-time analyzes of their terrain.

“We couldn’t have done this 15 years ago,” he says. “We didn’t have the computing power. “

Drones combine with firefighting technology in other innovative ways. Like the hill reports, Carrick Detweiler, CEO of Drone Amplified and professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has developed drone technology that drops balls of chemicals to create targeted fires at night. The system “allows Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management firefighters to fly at night and in thick smoke using thermal imagery.”

Thermal imaging can also help fight fires closer to where people live. A prototype of an autonomous drone called the Prophet, developed by Marius Kindler at the Umea Institute of Design, can monitor and assess burning structures so that fire departments and other emergency responders can respond effectively.

The drone is equipped with an infrared camera to capture a heat map, helping rescuers detect the source of the fire and how hot parts of a structure are. The drone can also help predict anomalies and can be linked with other drones to share situational awareness.

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AI firefighting technology advances

Artificial intelligence technology is advancing and being used by those fighting fires. An AI-based tool known as the Potential Control Locations algorithm “uses machine learning to suggest where firefighters should place their control lines during a fire,” as the Thomson article explains. Reuters.

“It’s very data-intensive,” says Chris Dunn, forestry researcher at Oregon State University. “It takes into account distances from roads, where there are ridges and level ground, the type of fuel present on the ground, and it also samples historical fire perimeters.”

Other researchers are also using AI to fight fires. Andre Coleman, who leads a team of researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, worked with the Department of Homeland Security to create a system in 2014 called Rapid Analytics for Disaster Response, or RADR, as reported by NBC News.

RADR “uses image capture technology from satellites, airplanes, drones, artificial intelligence and cloud computing to assess the impact of natural disasters, including forest fires,” notes NBC.

Instead of waiting for satellites to transmit images, which can take hours, a fire-focused version of the tool can “reveal the boundaries of forest fires several times a day and link impact and risk to structures, substations and other critical landscape infrastructure, ”according to NBC.

Combining technologies to provide real-time situational awareness is essential to contain forest fires. Any tool capable of reducing response times, improving and speeding up decision making is vitally important during a rapidly changing situation like a fire.

“Coordination can be difficult,” Coleman says. “It can help with evacuation routes to help understand where search and rescue needs to go. “

Meanwhile, researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Israel’s Ben-Gurion University are studying how drones equipped with AI could communicate with firefighters at the scene of fires so that they can be more efficient and save more lives. an INJT article reports.

“I am excited to explore how one of our most rapidly evolving technologies, AI-enabled drones, can be a game-changer to help firefighters quickly find casualties over a large area where visibility or other accessibility issues can give drones an advantage over humans, ”Yvette Wohn, associate professor of computer science at NJIT’s Ying Wu College of Computing, said in the NJIT post.

“Human firefighters will always be essential for the actual rescue, but the drone may be able to provide essential resources or be used as a vehicle to perform essential communication functions so that the victim can receive the best attention until that it can be transported. of the situation.


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