Unmanned aerial vehicles considered for monitoring fires in Australia

With numerous large fires burning in Australia, there has been discussion about the practicality of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to detect and monitor fires. In an article at Wired, Thomas Duff of the University of Melbourne’s Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, which developed the Phoenix RapidFire bushfire simulator said he believes…

…the vast amount of data gathered by drones could be sent to base via data links and potentially provide far more accurate, real-time predictions of where a fire will spread and when.

NASA is already using drones to study hurricane patterns as part of its Global Hawk project, and it would be no great leap to do the same thing in Australia.

“From an aircraft point of view and a sensing point of view the technology is there,” said Duncan Campbell, head of the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation. Campbell is currently working on embedding drones with smart sensors that prevent them from colliding with aircraft. “The big issue is the use of the airspace and that comes down to regulatory issues.” Nevertheless, he predicts we’ll see them in action over Australian skies within two years. However, we won’t be seeing pricey military grade versions:

“What we’re more likely to see in Australia are the smaller machines in the order of a few 100kg, flying a lot lower.”

The last time we wrote about Australia’s desire to buy large drones was in March, 2009, when they cancelled plans to buy some Global Hawks with an announced objective being surveillance of the waters surrounding the country. Since then the government has gone back and forth several times on buying or not buying these aircraft. The latest, according to Australia’s ABC News in September, 2012, is that the the military wants seven large UAVs flying by 2019. The preferred option is a new, maritime surveillance version of the Global Hawk – the MQ4C Triton with a total cost of $2 billion to $3 billion.


Thanks go out to Dick

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.