The combination of drones and wildfires isn’t usually a productive one. Emergency teams tasked with fighting them are often disrupted by opportunistic aerial photographers.
But the technology has also proved to be a useful situational awareness for fire crews. Drones can cover ground quickly and provide an indication of a fire’s scale and threat, reducing the need to put emergency teams in danger.
In the not too distant future, drones may play a more active role in firefighting. Tethered, hose-carrying drones are being developed by companies including Aerones, as you can see in the video below:
Beyond that, advances in computer vision and ‘swarm’ technology could see drones form ‘aerial aqueducts’ and fight fires as part of a relentless, round-the-clock team.
The concept was mentioned by DJI North America’s head of R&D, Arnaud Thiercelin, at the Global Tech Forum in November in 2018:
Telefónica: Drones and IoT sensors can be early warning systems
In collaboration with the Carlos III University of Madrid and local drone companies Divisek and Dronitec, Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica has carried out a pilot project to see how drones and IoT sensors can provide early warning systems for forest fires.
Spain is one of many countries around the world facing increasingly destructive annual forest fires as global temperatures rise. Last year, Spain was Europe’s most heavily impacted country, with 7,143 forest fires and 25,162.44 hectares devastated by flames.
The system being developed relies heavily on Telefónica’s telecommunications towers. In it, the towers are equipped with thermal sensors, which are capable of detecting any possible outbreak of fire in a perimeter of up to 15 km.
The towers would also house a small hangar, which in turn houses an autonomous drone, equipped with both a thermal camera and an optical one. Once the thermal sensors detect a fire, an alert is sent to the drone with the exact location of the trigger.
The drone then flies autonomously to that point to collect optical and thermal images. These are sent in real time to the emergency services, using the mobile connectivity provided by Telefónica’s towers.
Telefonica says the system can also be tapped into by emergency services, who can take control of the drone at any time to gather more information.
Once the mission is over, the drone returns to the hangar and gets ready for future flights by automatically recharging its batteries.
Vicente Muñoz, Chief IoT Officer of Telefónica, said: “The evolution of unmanned vehicles such as drones, improvements in sensors and IoT communication networks are revolutionising the monitoring of all kinds of infrastructures and the management of emergencies such as fighting forest fires. Thanks to IoT technology, fires can be detected early and vital information can be known to make better decisions at an early stage, which can help to quell an emerging fire so that it does not lead to a large devastating one.”
The pilot tests were conducted with experts from Madrid’s Carlos III University, Divisek and Dronitec. The university team developed an autonomous flight system, as well as the interface emergency service use to see information gathered in real time.
Divisek developed the autonomous drone recharging system. Dronitec collaborated in all the services associated with the drone.