Author Topic: Drones Saving Lives and Helping Ecosystems by Setting Fires  (Read 651 times)

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Offline Elapid

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Drones Saving Lives and Helping Ecosystems by Setting Fires
« on: January 28, 2017, 09:36:32 AM »
I suppose this could be considered my first 'real post' on the forum, but I've known about this since last year, and it's too damn cool (hot?) not to share. Also, I tend to get really wordy on stuff like this, and my brain plays Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to get from thought to thought, so, I apologize in advance for the rambling you are about to behold.

A little lead-in...

I'm an interpreter (naturalist) at a park. A lot of what I do is engaging the public to teach them them about our resources, yes, but, more importantly, to get them passionate and curious about the natural world. The other chunk of my work is natural resource management. One of the neatest things I get to do is help with prescribed fires. In my organization, we're primarily seeking to restore the pre-settlement fire ecology (Wikipedia has a pretty neat article on Fire Ecology. And, suppressing fires over extended periods of time is why the American West/Southwest have such hideous wildfires). A big bonus is that by lighting these fires, we're preventing fires. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but, think about it... In a deciduous forest (we primarily have oak/hickory forest), what do the trees do every autumn? They suck the chlorophyll into their branches and trunks, which lets their leaves show the remaining pigments, which is really pretty for about a week until a stiff breeze or hard rain knocks them loose. They drop.

This happens every year, year after year. Over time, you get a layer cake of leaf litter and twigs (or, in coniferous forest, pine straw, which is infinitely more flammable). In other words, it's a tinderbox waiting for a spark. With the long history of fire suppression in some areas (and subsequent buildup of thick fuel layers), one hopes that 'spark' is not a lightning bolt, a carelessly-tossed cigarette, or an ember from a campfire that someone didn't fully extinguish. PSA: douse your campfire/cooking fire until smoke isn't coming out, anymore. Smoke marks the potential to reignite, sometimes hours or days after you've left. You wouldn't want to upset Smokey, would you? I mean, look at him!


Adorable!

"Hey!" I hear you say. "Why is this in the Tech Talk section?"

Because drones, that's why.

Typically, prescribed burns, whether for ecological reasons, wildfire prevention reasons, or both, are ignited  by humans. On the ground. It's exhausting work. The facility I work at has some pretty steep hills with loose rocks (which would be considered child's play by folks who burn further south, in the Ozark Mountains). At 5' 1", I'm always the shortest person on the burn crew, which gives me the benefit of a lower center of gravity when traversing the slopes. This is somewhat offset, however, by the fact that we are wearing supply backpacks and/or full CamelBaks, thick boots, and hardhats. I won't count the Nomex shirts as an encumbrance - which is good, because real life doesn't have a Fast Travel option - but, we're also carrying driptorches to ignite the burn unit along our fire lines (search on YouTube for 'ring fire ignition', there are some pretty cool top-down time lapses showing how it's done).


That sucker is filled with a mixture of diesel and gasoline. There's a flow control valve on the 'stem', and that flow comes out over a wick flame at the end. The dribble of liquid fuel actually hits the ground before igniting, which is kind of neat to watch. The driptorch also weighs 16-20 lbs when full. That might not sound like a lot, but that liquid sloshes back and forth, you have to hold the torch away from your body (I have a friend and colleague with lots of burn training and experience that, on one occasion, didn't realize a little fuel had dripped onto her jeans, and wound up with third-degree burns, though thankfully in a very small area), and the terrain can be treacherous.

On the ground, igniting a prescribed fire takes hours. Even during textbook simple burns, you have to be mindful of slipping, stepping in a hole, getting your gear caught on something. It can be extremely dangerous, and it is exhausting.

ENTER THE DRONES



Have a giggle all you want at all the talk of balls dropping (I know I did), but, that is freaking awesome.

In August of 2016, NIMBUS Lab took their drone into the field, making it, "The first UAS to ignite prescribed fires from the air."



How freaking awesome is that!?

It's much safer, much faster, and much less expensive. It's like the difference between you and your crew walking the Oregon Trail, winding over and through mountains and streams, over rocks, with one wagon on fire that you have to keep on fire, versus just playing Oregon Trail on your computer, where nobody actually dies of dysentery.

TLDR: Igniting prescribed fires by hand is exhausting, dangerous, expensive, time-consuming, and potentially flesh-consuming, and I for one welcome our new fiery ball-dropping overlords.
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: Drones Saving Lives and Helping Ecosystems by Setting Fires
« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2017, 04:49:20 PM »
Cool. (Figuratively speaking.)
Daniel
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Offline Simon Jester

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Re: Drones Saving Lives and Helping Ecosystems by Setting Fires
« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2017, 08:40:39 PM »
(click to show/hide)

Thats fantastic, great post! I would like to hear more. If you look up the previous thread on drones you will see that most skeptics here would just shoot them out of the sky.  >:D

This could probably be merged with the other drone thread but dont sweat it, its great to have another drone lover in here before those OTHER skeptics (like pants) shoot them all!

Welcome to the forum Elapid.
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Online Noisy Rhysling

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Re: Drones Saving Lives and Helping Ecosystems by Setting Fires
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2017, 10:38:50 PM »
There's a difference between drones doing work and drones trying to get a shot of your daughter sunbathing by the pool. Just so you know.
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Offline Simon Jester

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Re: Drones Saving Lives and Helping Ecosystems by Setting Fires
« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2017, 11:55:53 PM »
There's a difference between drones doing work and drones trying to get a shot of your daughter sunbathing by the pool. Just so you know.

Clearly and if you look up the drone thread you will see that I made the argument that its just as easy to use a telephoto lens and camera on the ground from miles away yet there are no banning or demonizing of cameras nor ridiculous government registration rules for them.  Currently the toy tethered airplane i have owned since the 70s now requires a registration. 

At the time it amused me that a forum which contains such a large number of anti gun people was so willing and accepting of just shooting drones out of the sky when flying over your property. But really I have just teased pants about shooting drones out of the sky for a while now because its fun, im sure he is a completely responsible adult who would never do such a thing.  >:D
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: Drones Saving Lives and Helping Ecosystems by Setting Fires
« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2017, 12:02:55 PM »
We need reasonable regulation of drones for safety and privacy reasons. Without that, you'll have kids flying irresponsibly and hurting people. Users of well-designed and properly controlled drones won't complain about such regulation. Use of drones for fire control and search & rescue will save lives. In the case of this thread, drones are saving the lives of forest service personnel charged with setting controlled fires.

I can imagine someone trying to get pictures of sunbathers from a drone flying too close, with the risk of a crash. I can imagine paparazzi flying close to a car in traffic to try to get a picture of the occupant in a car, and causing a traffic accident. Two scenarios where a photographer with a telephoto lens would be a harmless pervert but a drone could endanger lives.

Regulation: yes.
Complete banning: no.
Daniel
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Offline PatrickG

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Re: Drones Saving Lives and Helping Ecosystems by Setting Fires
« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2017, 05:59:06 AM »
Mechanizing arson using drones sounds cool. At the same time it highlights a dangerous aspect of cheap drone technology.

The battlefield of the future will likely be buzzing with flying handgranates: quadcopters that automatically and precisely home in on select human targets. Terrorists can get creative in a similar way. No amount of regulation will stop them. 


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