Danish drone technology gives firefighters eyes in the air
In just five years, a total of 35,340 square kilometres in Europe have been affected by forest fires, according to the European Commission.
An area larger than Belgium.
Now a Danish-Spanish cooperation will enable the firefighters on the ground to better fight the growing forest fires.
The project is called Firedragon. It is a collaboration between the Danish company Robotto, the Danish Technological Institute, and the Spanish drone manufacturer FuVeX, which will develop a long-range drone solution that can monitor flames on a large scale as well as small pockets of fire and at the same time give the emergency services a better overview of the ground with the help of real-time fire maps.
Drones, helicopters, and planes are already used to monitor forest fires, but according to Kenneth Richard Geipel, CEO of Robotto, there is a long delay from the moment forest fires are spotted from an aircraft until the firefighters on the ground can act on the basis of this information.
“The data that the emergency services on the ground have to operate on is usually 12 hours old, and this means that every time firefighters need to go out, they have to create a new overview before they can deploy their resources and fight the forest fire,” Kenneth Richard Geipel says.
“This is because one first has to send a helicopter or a plane out, which then has to fly over the affected areas. From there, the fire must be estimated from the air, and the information sent down to the command centre, where the fire is manually plotted on a map before the firefighters on the ground receive it 12 hours later.”
The Firedragon project is supposed to completely eliminate that delay by processing the data that the drone picks up at the edge and with the help of artificial intelligence.
The data will be analysed locally on the drone, so the drone will be able to autonomously make decisions about how it should search the areas, and the firefighters will get the information in real time.
Hidden pockets of fire
When it comes to forest fires, another challenge are hidden pockets of fire that seem inactive but can self-ignite.
Today, firefighters have to walk in a long line through the areas where there has been a fire to find the pockets of fire that are still active.
And these are huge areas that the firefighters have to move through to ensure that everything is extinguished before they can move on, he says.
The drone project will automate the resource-intensive work with two different sensors on the drone—both a regular high-resolution camera and a thermal one.
The regular camera, which looks for data such as smoke and flames, is not always able to spot the pockets of fire, according to Kenneth Richard Geipel.
“Our thermal camera has to check the temperature in the forest fire areas, so that the drone technology can spot the pockets of fire at risk of flaring up and give the firefighters information about where exactly they need to go,” he says.
Fixed-wing VTOL drone
The drone that will be used to fight forest fires was made by the Spanish drone company FuVeX and is a fixed-wing VTOL drone.
That is, the drone can land and take off like a helicopter, but fly like an airplane.
The drone is powered by electricity and can fly up to 100 kilometres on a single charge, according to Kenneth Richard Geipel.
However, it has not yet been fully decided what the drone will look like, as the project also includes the development of a platform that has enough space for Robotto’s computer and sensor technology.
This task is to be solved by the Danish Technological Institute, the last partner in the project.
The institute is the intermediary between FuVeX and Robotto, and it must ensure that the drone and the technology are interconnected and well-integrated.
The collaborative project has been named Firedragon, which stands for “Firefighting with drones – day and night operation”, and the first step in the project is to engage in dialogue with firefighters and emergency services in Denmark, Spain, and other EU countries that experience forest fires, so that the technology and user interface meet their needs.