In August, wildfires burned in the steep mountains around Chongqing, a Chinese city with 31 million people. The fires threatened to spread to the city's tall business towers and high-rise homes. The most advanced drone army in the world attacked the fire from all sides, which helped in many ways.
Drones have, for example, brought food to Firefighters and moved up to 50-pound loads of water pipes and supplies. Surveillance drones went into the middle of the fire to track its path and send important information to the people who were helping.
According to China's official broadcaster, CCTV, larger drones flying miles above the fire lit bars of silver iodide inside clouds, causing fake rainfall. The Daily Beast says that long-range drones made by state-backed companies that make military equipment were used to seed clouds above a fire in Sichuan, which caused it to rain in just 60 minutes.
It was the ultimate embodiment of how China aims to combat natural calamities, such as wildfires in the twenty-first century.
China is the world's Drone Technology leader and home to DJI, the world's largest drone manufacturer.
Since earthquakes, floods, and wildfires don't just happen in China, you might expect the rest of the world to follow suit and use drone armies to fight natural disasters.
But this is not true, especially in the United States, where some government agencies and fire departments have grounded their fleets of DJI drones made in China because of security concerns.
Several government agencies, including the Department of the Interior, have grounded DJI drones, removing hundreds of firefighting drones from the skies of the United States.
“There's a real need for more drones to be used in good ways on wildfires. With additional safety barriers in place, for these really low-risk, non-national security missions, I still think there's very little risk of using DJI drones,” said Carrick Detweiler, CEO of Drone Amplified.
Drones to fight wildfires
Drone Amplified provides drone-based solutions for a controlled burn. Its IGNIS system is attached to drones and drops chemical spheres about the size of a ping-pong ball to start backburns. Firefighters use these backburns to make protective barriers and steer growing flames away from danger.
Detweiler says that more than 150 IGNIS systems that were made for DJI drones are being used right now, mostly by federal and state fire departments.
“There's a real need for more drones to be used in good ways on wildfires,” said Detweiler. “We're moving into an environment where every firefighter needs some drone really close by.”
With DJI drones being restricted for government use, it puts pressure on American drone manufacturers, the so-called Blue sUAS, to catch up.
Associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Kansas Haiyang Chao says that the government is willing to use more drones to respond to bad weather.
The Bureau of Land Management uses drones to keep an eye on both wildfires and controlled burns on federal land. Cloud seeding is also used in at least eight U.S. states to make it rain. This is done with planes or drones.
Though the approach and its underlying technology are somewhat contentious, a 2020 study revealed cloud seeding's ability to induce snowfall, which aroused politicians' interest.
Chao thinks that drones will gradually replace human planes in some situations, such as gathering real-time information on wildfires and transporting water. However, he believes that autonomous technology is a long way from being at the heart of Wildfire response.
Let us know what you think of the use of a drone army to help in the fight against wildfires. Do you think the time has come for drones to be used on a much larger scale and for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to relax the rules? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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