Researchers developing drone for controlled burns

The drones might be able to replace manned flights or the use of hotshot firefighting teams in some situations

The Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. — Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are developing an unmanned aircraft that can drop flaming balls to help firefighters safely set prescribed burns.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that a prototype has been developed that can be programmed to fly over a certain area and drop balls that will ignite several seconds later.

Firefighters already used the balls that contain a powder that will ignite several seconds after being injected with liquid glycol, but they are dropped from manned aircraft that are often considered too costly or expensive to be used.

"The idea is to provide a safe mechanism for people to perform fire management tasks with less risk and higher efficiency," said Sebastian Elbaum, a computer science and engineering professor.

Prescribed burns are done according to a plan to reduce the risk of wildfires and the spread of invasive species.

Indoor tests of the prototype have been encouraging, but researchers probably won't get a chance to try their drone in the field until next spring at the earliest. The team is waiting for Federal Aviation Administration approval for outdoor tests.

Researcher Carrick Detweiler said the drones might be able to replace manned flights or the use of hotshot firefighting teams in some situations.

And starting the fire with a drone could be safer in remote areas. The drones would have the ability to drop the balls in a precise pattern over an area.

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