Are fire fighting drone swarms the future of fire fighting? New work by engineer and mathematician Elena Ausonio and a team of Italian researchers suggest that this is possible.
The following is a guest post by Max Lenz, Executive Editor and Project Manager at Berlin DroneMasters Boost GmbH and publisher of the weekly newspaper DroneMasters Briefing. DRONELIFE does not make or accept payments for guest posts.
Swarms of drones for fire fighting
Forest fires are a growing problem in different regions of the world. Due to climate change and changing landscape conditions, the risk of fire is increasing and there are more forest fires with significant effects on nature and people. Almost all continents have experienced major fires in recent years that could not or only with difficulty be controlled with conventional fire fighting methods.
Elena Ausonio from the Institute of Mechanical Engineering (DIME) at the University of Genoa, together with Patrizia Bagnerini and Marco Ghio, studied the use of swarms of drones to fight forest fires. Elena has a master’s degree in civil and architectural engineering and has researched geomatics, photogrammetry, and digital numerical cartography. Since 2018 she is Ph.D. Student in mathematics and simulation technology at the University of Genoa in Italy in collaboration with the spin-off Inspire (www.inspire.flights). She enthusiastically follows developments in drones and automated systems and is a certified drone pilot herself. We spoke to her about her work to find out more about the potential of drones in this area.
The paper, Swarms of drones in fire fighting activities: A conceptual frameworkdescribes how drones can fight forest fires or support conventional fire fighting methods. The researchers propose a system consisting of a swarm of drones, each of which can carry a payload of between 5 and 50 kilograms. The drones would function as a unified system and follow a network to carry out their individual tasks. In this regard, the swarm of drones has significant advantages over conventional fire-fighting methods from the air such as helicopters or airplanes, as Elena Ausonio describes:
“A swarm of drones using a sliding maintenance platform can be deployed immediately and enables a quick response. It can be used both day and night in all visibility conditions without the need for an available water basin nearby. Keep in mind that in most countries fire-fighting planes can only fly during the day for safety reasons and, due to the distance from a water station, they can carry a limited number of water drops per hour.
Another key feature is that a swarm of drones is a true unmanned solution: drones do not risk the lives of airplane pilots and firefighters, who often have to operate in conditions of significant danger. It is a precise and flexible system as flight plans, target areas, etc. can be precisely outlined and changed in real time as fire conditions change. Last but not least, a swarm-based solution can easily be scaled to meet specific emergency needs. “
In addition, the swarm of drones could use the so-called rain effect. Since the evaporation of water contributes significantly to extinguishing, the distributed use of extinguishing water can cause more than just a drop of stain. This rain effect can be simulated by the many small units of a swarm.
In order for a functioning swarm of drones to be used effectively for fire fighting, complex requirements must be met. In addition to the drones working together successfully, it must also be possible to automatically charge or replace the drones’ batteries and successfully refuel them with extinguishing fluid. In addition, the swarm of drones can be deployed quickly in a mobile unit such as a truck or a base station near a forest fire area.
Ausonio is confident that these challenges can be overcome in the future: “The technology is evolving every day. An autonomous fire fighting system requires a combination of technologies including computer vision, artificial intelligence, object avoidance, refractories, and a fast maintenance mechanism. Currently, we are continuing our research by examining hybrid drones that could offer greater effectiveness and efficiency in transporting water and extinguishing liquids. Myself, Inspire and the research group at the University of Genoa continue to improve our platform drone system and hope that the key players understand that it is possible and feasible to use drones to fight forest fires in the near future. “
Look to the future
Overall, the study paints a positive picture for the future use of swarms of drones to fight fires in the wild. Automated swarms of drones can be deployed quickly and flexibly and could help contain the fire quickly, especially in the case of smaller fires. It is also quite possible that the swarms could be used to complement traditional fire fighting methods.
Ausonio is optimistic about the future and hopes for further research in this area: “I am sure that small, medium and large drones are the future of forest fire fighting. Of course, a lot of study and experimentation is still needed, but to me the great benefits that its use can offer are obvious. There has been significant technological advancement in recent years, suggesting swarms of drones will extinguish fires this decade. “
It could well be that using swarms of drones to fight forest and bush fires could just be the beginning of a transformation in firefighting. Finally, we wanted to know from Elena Ausonio how she sees the use of swarms of drones to fight fires in urban areas:
“I envision the use of fire fighting drones in cities as well as in urban and populated areas. I think they would be very good at dealing with fires in structures, especially on the upper floors of buildings where firefighters would have more problems operating with their ground vehicles. Drones could not only extinguish the flames in the rooms closest to the perimeter openings on the facades, but also bring fire-fighting materials to those who might be trapped in the building, such as fire blankets or parachutes.
They would also be a valuable tool in the event of fires on vulnerable structures that could not withstand high overloads, such as B. the weight of water droplets from helicopters and Canadairs. I am thinking, for example, of the fire that destroyed the La Fenice theater in Venice in 1996 and the fire in Notre Dame de Paris in 2019. Some companies and start-ups experimenting in this field have already made their first attempts to but the system we assumed that thanks to its autonomy we can react quickly to intervention requests and act continuously and efficiently. “
Those of you who would like to gain further insight into the subject or have specific questions are cordially invited to attend the event 56th DroneMasters Meetup (online) on May 5, 2020. In addition to three other inspiring speakers from the drone industry, Elena Ausonio will present her research results and answer questions. At the DroneMasters Meetups, experts and enthusiasts from different areas exchange ideas and experiences in order to shape the sustainable use of drones.
About the author
Max Lenz is Executive Editor and Project Manager at Berlin DroneMasters Boost GmbH, incubator and consulting company with a focus on vertical mobility and drones. As editor of the weekly newspaper DroneMasters BriefingMax monitors progress in vertical mobility and highlights exciting developments. In the DroneMasters Academy It provides access to flight robotics, aviation, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) using drones and drone sports.
Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.
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