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Aerial 'fire Drone' Passes Homestead Test

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A drone returns to the side of a burn area for a reload of fireballs and the chemical to make them burn.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have designed an aerial drone that can ignite fires in grasslands and forests, to assist firefighters.

Credit: Craig Chandler/University Communications/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) researchers Carrick Detweiler and Sebastian Elbaum have designed an aerial drone to ignite prescribed fires in grasslands and forests, burning 26 acres of restored tallgrass prairie at Homestead National Monument of America.

"A tool like this might be one of the answers to making these fires safer," says Homestead National Monument superintendent Mark Engler. "This is an important test."

Detweiler and Elbaum are the co-founders of the Nebraska Intelligent Mobile Unmanned Systems Laboratory, and have been working for nearly two years to develop aerial robots small enough to fit in a firefighter's backpack, yet smart enough to navigate a dangerous environment.

"UNL is pioneering this merging of two very risky, highly regulated technology fields: fire and unmanned aviation," Elbaum says.

The system, tested last week, was the fourth prototype developed by Elbaum and Detweiler. The device works by injecting balls containing a chemical with a liquid, which creates a chemical reaction-based flame after several minutes.

The drone also flew over fire lines and at different heights to gather data about fire conditions.

From UNL Today
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