- Title: As wildfires hit U.S., drone experts work to help forecast fires
- Date: 1st July 2021
- Summary: GREENOUGH, MONTANA, UNITED STATES (JUNE 24, 2021) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF DRONE LAUNCHING FROM CHARGING PLATFORM VARIOUS OF DRONE FLYING IN SKY BLUEHALO SENIOR ENGINEER ALEX CLARK HOLDING LAPTOP COMPUTER FOR AUTONOMOUS CONTROLS AND BLUEHALO PILOT TOMMY WHITAKER HOLDING CONTROLS AS SAFETY OPERATOR DRONE SHOT SHOWING DRONE IN SKY (MUTE) BLUEHALO SENIOR ENGINEER ALEX CLARK HOLDING LAPTOP COMPUTER, WHILE WATCHING DRONE, SAYING: "Alright, Tommy, we're going to land. Landing in 3, 2, 1." DRONE SHOT SHOWING DRONE LANDING ON CHARGING PLATFORM (MUTE) BLUEHALO SENIOR ENGINEER ALEX CLARK HOLDING LAPTOP COMPUTER, SAYING: "This can be programmed with a waypoint map that allows it to autonomously launch, run a mission, and autonomously land without a pilot at all, and that's really where we're going with this technology." DRONE SHOT SHOWING DRONE ON CHARGING PLATFORM (MUTE) UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA CHIEF PILOT BART BAUER AND JENNIFER FOWLER, DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY'S AUTONOMOUS AERIAL SYSTEMS OFFICE, HOLDING PAYLOAD ATTACHMENT JENNIFER FOWLER, DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY'S AUTONOMOUS AERIAL SYSTEMS OFFICE BACK OF FOWLER'S VEST THAT READS: "FAA LICENSED COMMERCIAL DRONE PILOT PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB" (SOUNDBITE) (English) JENNIFER FOWLER, DIRECTOR OF THE AUTONOMOUS AERIAL SYSTEMS OFFICE AT UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA, SAYING: "One of the main focuses this summer has been taking our experience in weather balloons and radiosondes which measure - they are devices that measure temperature, pressure, relative humidity, wind speed and wind direction through the atmosphere up to 34 kilometers. We're taking those devices and putting them on unattended aerial systems." VARIOUS OF JAYLENE NAYLOR, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF THE AUTONOMOUS AERIAL SYSTEMS OFFICE AT UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA, CARRYING UAV TO LAUNCH PAD VARIOUS OF NAYLOR CONDUCTING PROP CHECK FOR PRE-FLIGHT SAFETY CHECK (SOUNDBITE) (English) JENNIFER FOWLER, DIRECTOR OF THE AUTONOMOUS AERIAL SYSTEMS OFFICE AT UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA, SAYING: "400 feet is great but it's not giving us the information that we really need long-term for some of our weather models and to really... Even looking at wind shear, if we're trying to help some of the aircraft as they're flying through fire, they aren't flying at 400 feet. They're flying higher." DRONE LAUNCHING FROM PAD DRONE HOVERING IN AIR NAYLOR AND COLLEAGUES IN FIELD AS DRONE LIFTS HIGHER DRONE FLYING IN SKY VARIOUS OF NAYLOR AND COLLEAGUES IN FIELD VARIOUS OF DRONE LANDING BACK ON LAUNCH PAD NAYLOR DISABLING DRONE AFTER LANDING BLUEHALO SENIOR ENGINEER ALEX CLARK (RIGHT) AND WIBOTIC CEO AND CO-FOUNDER BEN WATERS (WALKING AROUND) AT WIBOTIC CHARGING PLATFORM CLOSE-UP OF WATERS BATTERY BEING INSTALLED ON DRONE (SOUNDBITE) (English) BEN WATERS, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER OF WIBOTIC, SAYING: "There are many, many more locations that they (referring to UoM) would like to do these types of experiments with anemometer payloads, with measuring wind, with looking at debris fields. The challenge is that you can't fly drones in those places. And one of the reasons why you can't fly drones is because you can't readily have access there. So we are really excited about enabling the future where drones can be stationed in remote areas." DRONE BEING PLACED ON WIBOTIC CHARGING PLATFORM LAPTOP SCREEN SHOWING BATTERY CONNECTION BETWEEN DRONE AND CHARGER DRONE ON CHARGING PLATFORM WITH RED LIGHT FLASHING TO INDICATE CHARGING BATTERY CONNECTION DISK (SOUNDBITE) (English) BEN WATERS, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER OF WIBOTIC, SAYING: "The charging pad, as you see here, is simply powered by a battery bank and a generator that can be recharged with solar so it can live out in a remote area. The wireless charging nature of this system means that it's inherently weatherproof, certainly could add more to it for protecting it from weather and securing it, for example. But its basic functionality is enabling remote inspection anywhere." DRONE ON CHARGING PLATFORM QR CODE ON CHARGING PLATFORM THAT ASSISTS WITH LANDING PAYLOAD CONTAINING WEATHER MONITORING INSTRUMENTS, INCLUDING 3-D ANEMOMETER FOR WIND SPEED, TEMPERATURE, ELEVATION SCREEN ON PAYLOAD SHOWING VARIOUS MEASUREMENTS DRONE PROPELLER CAMERA LLOYD QUEEN, A PROFESSOR IN THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREST MANAGEMENT AND DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR LANDSCAPE FIRE ANALYSIS, DURING INTERVIEW (SOUNDBITE) (English) LLOYD QUEEN, A PROFESSOR IN THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREST MANAGEMENT AND DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR LANDSCAPE FIRE ANALYSIS, SAYING: "If you and I were fighting fire here along this road today, I probably don't need a drone overhead telling me where it is because I'm standing there. So again, in a sort of more localized small footprint area of critical concern, if we can target the asset toward those conditions, I think the adoption and use would go up a lot." DRONE SHOT SHOWING DRONE TAKING OFF FROM LAUNCH PAD (MUTE) DRONE SHOT SHOWING DRONE FLYING IN AIR VARIOUS OF CHIEF PILOT BART BAUER AND OPERATOR JIM SEIELSTAD IN FIELD DURING DRONE FLIGHT VARIOUS OF DRONE FLYING IN SKY (SOUNDBITE) (English) JENNIFER FOWLER, DIRECTOR OF THE AUTONOMOUS AERIAL SYSTEMS OFFICE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA, SAYING: "They (firefighters) would really like to have better forecasts just to really know 'when can we attack these lines a little bit more efficiently' and 'where can we move resources?' They just don't know all the time what's going to happen. And often the fire itself, it's changing the environment. So it's a complicated system and it's a great challenge. And I think that's partially what drives me too. It's the challenge of trying to figure this out." MORE OF BAUER AND SEIELSTAD IN FIELD CLOSE-UP OF BAUER VARIOUS OF DRONE LANDING ON LAUNCH PAD
- Embargoed: 15th July 2021 00:24
- Keywords: UAVs disasters drone technology drones drones for wildfires fires wildfire weather forecasting wildfires
- Location: GREENOUGH, MONTANA, UNITED STATES
- City: GREENOUGH, MONTANA, UNITED STATES
- Country: USA
- Topics: Disaster/Accidents,United States,Wildfires/Forest Fires
- Reuters ID: LVA001EK0DGEF
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: In a grassy meadow in the Lubrecht Experimental Forest outside Missoula, Montana, Jennifer Fowler eyes two drones high in the sky with weather instruments -- part of a program to see how drones can be used in wildfire fighting and monitoring.
Missoula is a major center for wildfire research and the program comes as the Federal Aviation Administration starts to loosen the reigns on autonomous flight regulation for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) - a crucial step that takes the human out of the picture to make drone use cost effective. The FAA has mostly required drones to be within the pilot's sight and the University of Montana team once had to hire a helicopter to follow the drone.
While some fire chiefs see drones as a nuisance that get in the way of tankers dropping fire retardants, some fire departments have tested drones with sensors to detect toxic gases or infrared cameras to detect the fire temperature. One of Fowler's drones carried an anemometer, an instrument to measure wind speed, wind direction, and air temperature. Another drone carried a payload with instruments to measure air temperature, relative humidity, and GPS. Fowler's team used that drone's accelerometer and tilt to calibrate wind speed. The data from them can be fed in real-time, an action Fowler hopes to one day replicate with meteorologists on the ground who've been assigned to a wildfire incident.
"They (firefighters) would really like to have better forecasts just to really know 'when can we attack these lines a little bit more efficiently' and 'where can we move resources?' They just don't know all the time what's going to happen. And often the fire itself, it's changing the environment," said Fowler, the director of the Autonomous Aerial Systems Office at University of Montana, whose end goal for the program's field work is completely autonomous flight for weather monitoring on wildfire incidents.
The Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence, an outside research arm advising the FAA, has pointed to Montana's work as the initial trickle of what will be a flood of use cases for autonomous systems in the years ahead.
One key area in jumpstarting autonomous drones is battery recharging technology. WiBotic, a startup born in the lab at University of Washington that came to Montana to participate in Fowler's program, built a wireless charging pad that also analyzes the data and a system that can monitor the battery health remotely.
WiBotic CEO and co-founder Ben Waters said a system like theirs could potentially help drones fly in more remote places, giving researchers more airspace to explore and monitor without the need of a human pilot.
"There are many, many more locations that they (University of Montana) would like to do these types of experiments with anemometer payloads, with measuring wind, with looking at debris fields. The challenge is that you can't fly drones in those places," Waters said.
The other hurdle is getting special FAA approval for airspace. Certain drone licenses limit flyers to 400 feet. For the program, Fowler's team were able to fly its drones up to 1,200 feet.
Long-term, any drone involved in wildland firefighting must be adaptable and be able to change its mission based on the needs on the ground, said Lloyd Queen, a professor in the Department of Forest Management and director of the National Center for Landscape Fire Analysis. A drone's mission must be able to change to help find ingress and egress routes, examine fuel loads, weather conditions, and more.
"If you and I were fighting fire here along this road today, I probably don't need a drone overhead telling me where it is because I'm standing there," Queen said. "If we can target the asset toward those conditions, I think the adoption and use would go up a lot."
While Fowler's team flew its drones manually, drone maker BlueHalo's drones fitted with WiBotic's charging hardware and software tested autonomous flight alongside them as Fowler's team considers the technology needed for an autonomous future. With a laptop computer programmed with waypoint map, BlueHalo senior engineer Alex Clark was able to launch a drone with the push of a button, while a safety pilot stood nearby as an observer.
For the next test, Fowler said her team is taking the drones to Oregon in October to test them out with a real fire - one that burns sections of the forest to keep wildfires in check.
(Production: Nathan Frandino, Jane Lanhee Lee)
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