There is an increasing use of drones within firefighting and wildfire fighting, helping incident responders with data collection, imaging for a variety of purposes, and including activities such as backfiring from a control line. If you would like to find out more about our technology, then please email us at adrian.smith@smithautonomous.com in the first instance.

There are very few credible examples of drones being used to directly attack fires, either by using a retardant or by controlling a hose line. YouTube has quite a lot of examples of projects that have tried to innovate in the space, but have either failed completely, or simply demonstrated a very limited proof-of-concept.

There are a series of limitations with drone technology that have, thus-far, impeded the use of drones in attacking fire-fighting scenarios:

  • Flight time and battery discharge. A simple fact of physics is that electrical resistance increases with heat, and therefore if a drone operates in a very hot environment, it will discharge the battery very quickly. Further, if a drone is carrying a heavy load such as a hose or container of retardant/water, the battery duress is increased. This has limited drones in this field to a few minutes of flight time, and renders them impractical.
  • Heat, visibility and debris. For a drone to attack a fire, it has to be reasonably near to it; protecting a drone from the heat it would experience without compromising its weight is a significant engineering challenge. More significantly, if a battery gets beyond a threshold of around 45 degrees centigrade, it is at risk of over-pressurizing and exploding; working adjacent to a fully involved fire would involve temperatures very much in advance of this threshold. Further, the smoke, ash and other debris risks hitting the drone and potentially downing it, while the operator or any on-board sensors or control equipment may be hampered, creating unsafe flying conditions.
  • Recoil. If one were to use a hose on a drone, then Newtonian physics dictates that the force of the water discharging from the hose would create a force in the opposite direction acting on the drone; in effect the hose pushes back on the drone. Existing examples of drones have therefore used very small hoses, with limited flow rates similar to a garden hose, to avoid causing unrecoverable instability in flight; but rendering the drone useless as a practical firefighting tool. This means that existing attempts to do this have not provided a practical means of delivering a Critical Flow Rate (CFR) or a Tactical Flow Rate (TFR) in almost all fire-fighting scenarios.

Our drone technology successfully addresses all of these engineering challenges, so as to create a stable platform for aerial firefighting. In so doing, there are number of clear firefighting benefits:

  • In a wildfire scenario, the drones can take an attack line to where it would be far too dangerous to have firefighters adjacent to the fire; weather conditions, slope, topography, fuel, and fire type can all create conditions where firefighters have to stand off rather than attack the flames. Our drones allow firefighters to stand off and attack the flames from a safe zone.
  • The drones can fly at night; the control systems mean that the attack lines can be taken to fight the fire front in the dark, where it is usually too dangerous for firefighters on the ground, and where airborne options such as helicopters and tanker planes are severely restricted.
  • The drones can fly higher than a platform and hose mounted on a truck can reach; in an urban environment with highrise buildings reaching hundreds of metres into the air, this creates more fire-fighting flexibility.
  • Our drones provide signficant water flow up to 500 gallons per minute – this means that it can contribute substantially to a CFR and TFR for an involved fire, regardless of where it is. In a high-rise fire-fighting scenario, where dry-risers and wet-risers may deliver only enough water for two attack lines, and platforms may not be safe, our drones provide a major tactical firefighting advantage.
  • Our drones can withstand external temperatures up to 500 degrees centigrade, meaning that they can operate close to an involved fire without an issue; much closer than a human fire fighter can.
  • The drones use an algorithmic approach to processing sensor data to attack the fire in the most mathematically efficient manner possible, ensuring that control and containment is reached in the fastest possible time.
  • The drones can be moved into position very quickly.
  • The comparative cost of one of our drone systems compared to even a single air attack of fire retardent makes it an extremely compelling offer.

If you would like to find out more about our technology, then please email us at adrian.smith@smithautonomous.com in the first instance.