While the word drone can strike fear into the hearts of many people, you can really escalate that fear by adding “flame-throwing” to the description.
Luckily, these flame-throwing drones are on the good guy’s side, and, technically, they don’t really throw the flames as much as just drop it.
A team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been working on the Unmanned Aerial System for Fire Fighting, or UAS-FF in an attempt to find a better way to conduct controlled fires.
Right now, there are two ways to start controlled fire. It can be done by hand or with a drop from a helicopter. But both of those techniques are expensive and potentially dangerous. As with most things that are both expensive and dangerous, drones might be an ideal solution.
Prescribed burns, which is when a pre-determined part of the grassland is burned in a controlled manner, is part of healthy land management. If there aren’t periodic fires–in this case in the grassy plains of the Midwest–there are issues with invasive species, including Eastern Red Cedar, and dangerous growth. Plus droughts and climate change are offering up super dry grass that acts as tinder and can lead to out of control fires.
They’re a necessary part of making sure the lands offer up enough food for livestock since invasive species can overtake the food grazing animals eat.
While the U.S. government is able to utilize helicoptors for the purpose of starting these fires, that’s generally too expensive of an option for private land. A drone would offer land owners an alternative option to hand-lighting the fires or not lighting them at all.
These drones aren’t actually spraying out fires. They drop little ping pong balls filled with potassium permanganate powder. To ignite a flame, right before the ball is dropped, it’s injected with liquid glycol so after a few seconds–right as it hits the ground–the ball ignites. It’s pretty similar to how helicopters light the fires, only much cheaper.
The drones will be preprogrammed to follow a particular pattern to avoid flames and high-winds, while also being careful about what they’re lighting.
They’re just testing the drone inside for now, but they’re working with the FAA and fire departments and hope to start real-life testing in March.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense