Drones That Launch Flaming Balls Are Being Tested To Help Fight Wildfires

By Ariana Brocious, KUOW.org, Seattle News and Information, August 3, 2016

It’s a warm, sunny morning at the Homestead National Monument of America in southeastern Nebraska. A burn crew dressed in yellow and green flame-resistant clothing is about to set a patch of tall-grass prairie on fire — on purpose. These kind of burns aren’t unusual. But today’s burn is; a team from the University of Nebraska is testing a fire-starting drone.

Small drones have become a favorite high-tech tool, or toy, for all kinds of people. But researchers hope this new firefighting drone they are designing can save lives.

Dropping the balls

The UNL NIMBUS Lab drone team hopes their technology will help ensure safer prescribed burns by keeping firefighters out of dangerous terrain.

The UNL NIMBUS Lab drone team hopes their technology will help ensure safer prescribed burns by keeping firefighters out of dangerous terrain.

First, firefighters light the edge of the prairie using big gas cans called drip torches. As the waist-high flames start to turn the grass black, computer science professor Sebastian Elbaum gets the drone ready to launch. “Once they build this horseshoe shape of black area, then we’re going to have our drones fly across this field and drop some of these balls that will ignite into a flame,” Elbaum explains.

The drone is about the size of a kid’s helmet, with horizontal propellers on all sides. A clear tube extends from the top, into which Elbaum is loading pink and white ping pong balls. Then, standing on the side of the field, the team sends the drone up and over the flames, into the unburned area. Read complete article here: http://kuow.org/post/drones-launch-flaming-balls-are-being-tested-help-fight-wildfires