UAVs Tested As Fire Spotters

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In a demonstration flight last month in the Idaho desert, a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) carrying a video camera showed that it could help firefighters track the movement of forest fires. "I thought this was possible for a long time," said Everett Hinkley, of the U.S. Forest Service Remote Sensing Applications Center. "This technology could be used to show you what the fire is doing right now, over the hill." The tests were conducted by the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. The Forest Service plans to test the UAVs with heat-sensing cameras on a fire this spring or summer somewhere in Montana, Hinkley told The Associated Press. Today's big fires are mapped using manned aircraft, fitted with thermal sensors, which fly at night over hot spots and fire perimeters. Data from the plane's sensors are transmitted to staff at fire-management operations centers, who use the information to make decisions on when and where to send in equipment or firefighters. NASA teams from the Ames Research Center and Dryden Flight Research Center are investigating whether it makes sense to use flocks of small, inexpensive UAVs carrying a variety of sensors for such routine surveillance. NASA engineers are specifically interested in coordinated maneuvering, and they envision the UAVs working in concert like a flock of birds or a school of fish.