A new partnership, supported through Nevada's Knowledge Fund and led by the Desert Research Institute (DRI), is aiming to reduce the cost of wildfire fighting by developing and testing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for wildfire applications.
Developed through DRI's Climate, Ecosystem and Fire Applications Program, the project will bring together scientists, foresters, firefighters and UAS industry manufacturers to research and evaluate UAS platforms, sensors and software that can be used in a variety of applications: from wildfire smoke plume sampling to early-warning and wildfire detection.
‘We are extremely pleased and excited to propel this effort,’ says Adam Watts, an assistant research professor at DRI who will serve as the lead on the project. ‘The enormous potential for UAS to serve as geospatial intelligence tools to improve the safety and effectiveness of fire management – and our ability to forecast fire and smoke movements – remains largely untapped.’
Watts and his colleagues are also working with Drone America, a provider of UAS and related equipment and services in Nevada.
‘Drone America has been developing unmanned systems in support of emergency response and public safety for several years,’ says Mike Richards, president of Drone America. ‘This work will help advance our ability to serve the wildland fire community, and we are excited about the support for the UAS industry and the potential for expanding our markets that the project will provide.’
In addition to financial support from the Knowledge Fund, the two-year project also will also leverage DRI’s longtime connection with the NASA research and applications community.
‘I know well the potential for UAS to be used for wildfire-related applications and the complex considerations for airspace safety that have led to the slow development of this important use,” explains Vincent Ambrosia, associate program manager in wildfires for NASA’s Applied Science Program
‘This new partnership benefits NASA because it is in line with several aspects of our Earth Sciences directorate, as well as our larger agency mission to develop technology, information, models and knowledge for transfer to the public and private sector to ultimately benefit the greater community,” he says.
Watts notes that the project team at DRI is also exploring collaborative work with Canadian UAS and fire-research companies, as well as the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, to develop and expand wildfire UAS research outside the U.S.