Drones are pretty cool. So are flamethrowers. So what about drones that have flamethrowers mounted on them?
While the idea certainly is cool, drones that can start fires also could be very useful when it comes to prescribed burns, used for conservation purposes. The Unmanned Aerial System for Fire Fighting is being developed by a team of experts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in drones, fire ecology, public policy, and conservation.
"Unmanned aerial devices have the potential to carry out key resource management strategies and could help us deal with something as big as the international increase in severe wildfires," said Dirac Twidwell, a team member working on the drones.
These drones could replace manned aircraft and firefighting teams, having the ability to ignite and monitor fires in more remote areas. Not only that, but the technology would be able to operate in harsher environments with limited supervision, essentially enhancing already-established firefighting teams.
The team behind the new drone has already conducted successful tests on a prototype indoors, and the researchers hope to soon have approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and local fire departments to continue their testing on a more widespread scale, as early as March.
Prescribed burning, which is where certain areas like grasslands are burned according to a plan, is a method that is recognized as a way to effectively conserve areas, eliminating invasive species and restoring native plants. Not only that, but it also reduces the risk of wildfires. The method is, however, not very widely used because of perceived safety concerns that some people have. While some federal agencies have been using helicopters to ignite certain areas, it can be a little expensive for private land owners to do the same.
The drones themselves carry pingpong-like balls that are filled with potassium permanganate powder. Before these balls are dropped, they are injected with liquid glycol, causing a chemical reaction that creates a flame in about 10 to 45 seconds. The UAV's could be programmed to drop the balls in a pattern for the best burn, researchers said, and so they don't fly into areas where it is too hot or windy for safe use.