UAVs Avoid Obstacles, Map Wildfires

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NASA tested several small robotic aircraft called APV-3s, propeller-driven planes with 12-foot wingspans, at Moffett Field in California last month to demonstrate their ability to avoid other aircraft in a "flock" and to also swerve past obstacles in flight even without guidance from the ground. The UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are equipped with thermal sensors and are being studied for their potential to help monitor wildfires. "There is potentially a nice fit here, where you could do your water attacks and use your manned aircraft during the day, and fly the UAVs at night," said NASA scientist John Melton. The aircraft cost about $50,000 each and are easy to launch and operate. The U.S. Forest Service plans to use the UAVs starting next year to patrol a dozen Western states, searching out and mapping forest fires 24 hours a day. NASA is also working on a system that would use ground-based radar stations to ensure that UAVs sharing airspace with other aircraft can see and avoid them.