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February 13, 2019updated 18 Jul 2022 7:45am

Drone Fire Hackathon: They Can Close Airports, But Can they Fight Fire?

"The speed and ferocity of the devastating wildfires in California demonstrated the need to develop new ways of using science and technology to assist the emergency services wherever possible."

By CBR Staff Writer

Can drones be used to help fight runaway fires? This is the question asked jointly by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the American Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

The two are putting on simultaneous hackathons next month to try to answer it; one in the US, the other in the ‘spark’ Facility at Southampton Solent University. Individuals and teams will be tasked to come up with innovative ways to assist emergency services as they battle wildfires.

Fighting wildfires is of course a dangerous task, but those dangers can be compounded by the changing dynamic of a live fire, winds can change and combustible vegetation can ignite closing off entry or escape paths.

Many see the tests as a proxy for plans to develop offensive swarms of military drones. Just earlier this week the UK’s Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson said the UK would “develop swarm squadrons of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overwhelming enemy air defences”.

Tim Wright, Dstl’s Aerospace Systems Group Leader commented in a released statement that: “Small unmanned air systems or ‘drones’ – in the right hands – could offer a way of reducing the burden on the emergency services by mapping and tracking a wildfire in real time, autonomously, so efforts can be focussed rapidly where they’re needed to save more lives.”

Drone Fire Hackathon Open Call

The Hackathon is open to all, industry experts, academia, coders or tech start-ups with that next great lifesaving idea.

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If you have a keen interest in drone technology or artificial intelligence then you may be able to help them create new concepts for drone design that can help emergency services on the ground carry out their vital work in a more efficient manner.

AFRL is creating a computer simulation for the event that will be able to model and predicate how the drones would operate within a live environment. AFRL has extensive experience in creating synthetic environments through their work with the Joint Secure Air Combat Training Solution, a programme that helps train the U.S Airforce by blending virtual and live environments in combat training scenarios.

Mick Hitchcock from the US Air Force commented that: “The winning team from the UK hackathon will be offered a unique opportunity to present their winning ideas and proposal for further exploitation at the British Embassy in Washington DC. Costs for travel and accommodation will be provided where appropriate.”

“The winning teams from both the US and UK hackathons will also be recognised at the AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2019 unmanned and autonomous systems trade show.”

See Also: Autonomous Drones Proposed for Search and Rescue in Forested Areas

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