This post originally appeared on https://blog.adafruit.com/2016/05/16/using-drones-for-prescribed-burns-drone-droneday/.
[Editor’s Note: Already used with helicopters, this technology has been adapted for drones.]
“Introducing this technology is an important step forward for us in testing new methods to work, not only prescribed fires but really, wildland fires,” Engler said.
The burn team starts lighting the edge of the prairie with drip torches—basically big gas cans with a wick. As firefighters walk along the growing flames, UNL computer science professor Sebastian Elbaum gets the drone ready to launch. He described the burn plan:
“Once they build this horseshoe shape black area [of burned grass], we’re going to have our drones there fly across this field and drop some of these balls that will ignite into flame,” Elbaum said. The idea is to “help them perform the task that [the firefighters] right at the center are performing right now, which can get risky if the wind changes or if they get caught up in there.”
Once the drone is airborne, it injects powder-filled ping-pong balls with glycol, then drops them into the unburned area in the middle of the field. In less than a minute, the chemical reaction inside sets the balls on fire. UNL’s NIMBUS lab adapted this firefighting technology—already used with helicopters—to work on a drone.