Drones help tackle heatwave fires across Spain

Drones help tackle heatwave fires across Spain

Feature articles |
By Nick Flaherty

Drones with a control system from UAV Navigation are helping emergency services in Spain tackle major fires in the current heatwave.

The Spanish Emergency Military Unit (UME) is a dedicated paramilitary force that was established for missions where intervention is required to preserve the safety of Spanish citizens in cases of natural disaster.

The UME mainly focuses on supporting firefighters to tackle wildfire emergencies with over 4,000 staff and uses a wide variety of vehicles, tools, and equipment, including UAVs. Among these UAVs is the Spanish A-800 helicopter UAV, which uses the flight controller from Spanish developer UAV Navigation. This is providing timely information to commanders on the ground about the development of a wildfire while at the same time reducing the risk to people on the ground.

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The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analysis, and drone technology is giving fire departments a new suite of tools to combat fires that are growing in size, frequency, and intensity. UAVs are robust tools that can be operated regardless of weather conditions. These tools are also proving to be very useful to firefighters in the urban environment.

A key function of UAS in the firefighting context is to provide situational awareness to commanders during inherently chaotic situations. These aircraft are useful tools for capturing thermal images of the landscape below in real-time; the heat signature can assist commanders in deciding where firefighters should establish fire containment lines, dug either by bulldozer or by hand.

To help firefighting agencies gain situational awareness, UAVs can help protect personnel and enable fast mapping for incident response and post-incident recovery. Interestingly, they can also be used to remotely ignite controlled burns to stop fires from spreading.

Having eyes above the scene and being able to fly the drone to where the hotspots are allowed crews to fight the fire more efficiently. With greater information from the air, incident command can better direct the crew members on the scene to put out the fire. The thermal camera provides the essential ability for firefighters to see through the smoke to monitor hotspots. UAS are eyes in the sky for firefighters.

UAVs require flight control software and hardware elements that will allow the aircraft to be controlled remotely, either directly by a pilot or autonomously by an onboard computer. UAV flight dynamics are highly variable and non-linear, so maintaining attitude and stability may require continuous computation and readjustment of the aircraft’s flight control systems.

The UAV Navigation autopilot can be fully integrated with cameras and provide advanced capabilities. The incorporation of geo-pointing functionalities allows the UAS to automatically follow the target coordinates provided by a camera either automatically (object tracking) or via manual input. This would allow getting a real-time image of a fire source using an automatic loiter of the aircraft over it.

The operator can easily configure a fight plan to let the UAV cover a designated area most efficiently. This functionality is strategic for Search & Rescue missions and during post-fire analysis.

The user can configure automatic actions on waypoints while planning the mission. The firefighters could schedule automatic events such as switch activations or automatic events.

The low visibility when flying through the smoke may lead to risky situations and put the mission in danger. UAV Navigation flight control system allows the integration of a 3D visualization tool that helps operators to increase situational awareness and know real-time orography of the terrain.

Firefighting requires quick actions, so a Flight Control Solution has to be easy to deploy high-speed applications. This needs “multiple gains settings” that allow automatic interpolation of gains depending on airspeed and help UAS platforms to be present on the fire location very fast. This would reduce the time to start acting over the fire and prevent it spreading.

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