Welcome to the new Robotics column for Industrial Fire World.
My name is Mike Kahn, and I am a 20+ year veteran of the electronics industry. I will be your guide on advances in robotics as useful tools in public safety and fire mitigation. My background spans from electronic industry giants like Sony, where I spent over 17 years holding various positions in product management and marketing, to one of the largest drone companies as its U.S. CEO. Nowadays my 9-5 job is as global CMO of AEE Technology Inc., a global innovator in drones, aircraft, and imaging.
Let’s start off our dialogue by discussing drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAV) in firefighting scenarios, especially in hazardous or HAZMAT situations. Using a drone at an emergency can seem risky, especially for departments that recently adopted drones into their workflows. After all, we deploy UAVs to help fight fires, not spread them, or create chaos by flying hazards onsite.
There are two basic elements to consider with a drone: the aircraft plane system and the payload system. For this first article, I am going to concentrate on the drone is an aircraft with a pilot (albeit a remote pilot) but nonetheless a pilot and aircraft flight control system.
The drone’s remote pilot (RP) needs a certain comfort level and skill to fly in a dangerous and stressful environment. I recommend training and certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop these skills. The organization provides a pilot licensing process through FAA Part 107 Pilot Certification. (Find more information about FAA certification here: https://faadronezone.faa.gov).
Not only is it sound advice to become certified when using a drone as part of your firefighting assets, but in many cases, it is mandatory under FAA policy.
If there are safety and restrictions to contend with, why use a drone at all? The simplified answer is the benefits outweigh the obstacles. Having eyes in the sky gives fire commanders unprecedented support for critical decisions. Drone footage allows commanders to visually assess how to deploy assets onsite. Drone footage may show structure damage, potential fuel sources, trapped victims, potential escape routes, and more. The benefits are endless.
AIRCRAFT CONTROL SYSTEMS
In this article series, we will delve into the various components of the drone and payloads, and how and when to deploy drones.
Let’s take a closer look at the aircraft system including the pilot (RP), flight airspace, the ground station (remote controller), and the drone flight control (aircraft itself).
When asked to launch a drone onsite (such as at HAZMAT spill) to assess the situation from the air, the RP will need to determine the airspace they will launch into. Is it controlled, restricted, or open airspace? You cannot fly through a restricted airspace without getting permission from the controlling agency even in an emergency situation, you should still alert air traffic control in the area to your drone launch and flight.
With proper training and licensing, an RP can request and receive clearance to fly the drone even in restricted airspace. In fact, the FAA has engaged the drone community and simplified this process by introducing the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), an electronic and nearly instantaneous way to gain authorization via a simple app in your smart phone. Some common APP examples are, AIRMAP and KITTYHAWK.
According to the FAA, a LAANC provides:
- Drone pilots with access to controlled airspace at or below 400 feet.
- Awareness of where pilots can and cannot fly.
- Air Traffic Professionals with visibility into where and when drones are operating.
LAANC allows the RP to communicate electronically with the FAA and by extension alert nearby aircraft that a drone is being deployed. During a fire emergency, the FAA generally restricts drone flights to keep airspace clear for manned aircraft operations, like firefighting helicopters. But the FAA makes an exception and gives authorization to drones when the firefighting agency is the one deploying the drone.
Next time, we will dive deeper into flight control (manual sticks vs autonomous flights). Upcoming articles will describe various payloads like Dual View RGB/Thermal Cameras as well as After Flight (POS PROCESSING) software to build useful 2D and 3D models for fire investigation and prevention.
Mike Kahn is a 20+ year veteran of the electronics industry. He spent 17 years with Sony, where he held positions in product management and marketing. He was the U.S. CEO of one of the largest drone companies in the world. Today, he is global CMO of AEE Technology Inc., a global innovator in drones, aircraft, and imaging. He can be reached via Twitter @Drone2Mike