From raging wildfires in the West to devastating building collapses in the East, firefighters must constantly rise to the challenge of keeping Americans safe. These professionals need tools that protect public safety while also safeguarding the firefighters themselves.
Drones offer a perfect means of protecting and saving human lives and helping to minimize or eliminate hazards.
Using drones in fire settings is increasing, particularly for industrial fires where firefighters may encounter wickedly hot blazes, explosion risks, toxic fumes and hazardous chemicals. “A drone can create a more holistic view of these fire scenes from multiple vantage points,” says Barry Alexander, founder and CEO of Aquiline Drones, a full-service commercial drone manufacturing and cloud computing company. “Drones give you a complete picture of the scene while keeping humans out of harm’s way.”
How Fire Departments Can Use Drones
It can be too risky to send in firefighters immediately after disaster strikes at an industrial facility. Here, drones deliver aerial imagery that can enhance situational awareness.
New low-cost, thermal imagery solutions on drones improve visibility in difficult conditions. The technology helps drones “see” through smoke to deliver key information to firefighters. Incident commanders can receive real-time video, overlaid area topography and maps to gain insight that enhances the firefighting mission. When drones fly overhead, the technology can pinpoint hidden fire in roofs and walls to better protect firefighters. Should humans remain in the building, this technology also can pin down their whereabouts.
“There are a variety of camera and sensor packages that allow firefighters to get as close as possible but also gain situational awareness from a safe distance away,” Alexander says. “They can see the heat content index on their phones and decide on how close they can get.”
Industrial fire brigades also can use drones for routine inspections, adds Alexander. Tank inspections are traditionally a laborious, expensive process that involves prolonged downtime and safety concerns for those doing the inspections. Using drones revolutionizes this task, providing needed information about tank conditions, while enhancing safety and reducing downtime.
“Tank inspections are a primary use for UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles),” he says. “We can outfit drones with sensors that detect concerns with these assets.”
Transforming Drones with Advanced Technologies
Cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and other technologies are transforming the UAV industry.
Aquiline Drones Cloud is a real-time, smart cloud for autonomous drones. This dedicated and scalable hybrid cloud for high-density drone operations delivers mission-critical computing for industrial applications.
Edge computing, AI and big data analytics also power the company’s drones. This technology enables Aquiline drones to operate on sophisticated map, terrain and flight data coming from a variety of sources, including a 3D open-source world map, LIDAR, satellites and the real-time drone network itself. The technology converges to allow drones to make autonomous flights.
Advanced technology allows organizations to deploy swarms of drones and even control drones by voice commands from a safe distance away. And it allows them to transfer data in real time via LTE back to people on the ground.
“With first-person viewing capability, you can instruct the drone using your voice to collect more information,” Alexander says. “You might ask the drone to hover in place and focus a specific area, or to move to the right or left to collect information from different vantage points, and have that information transferred to you in real time to make informed decisions.”
Computing on the edge using AI gives drones cognitive capabilities that help them understand what they are looking at, and based on historical data and machine learning practices, provide prescriptive recommendations.
For instance, say a drone inspects a tank and spots a crack. A week later, it returns and sees the crack has grown. By knowing the rate of progression, the drone may recommend spot drilling the end of the crack. “It can tell workers what they can do to mitigate the situation based on what it sees,” he says.
Data collected on previous flights also can train a drone to make autonomous flights to inspect a tank, for example. This application involves several steps:
- First, the drone must learn and map out the infrastructure.
- Then it must create a digital twin of the structure.
- Now it can record anomalies that were not present in previous scans.
Industrial facilities might schedule regular autonomous flights. For instance, a chemical plant may use autonomous flights to enhance facility security. By flying overhead regularly, a drone might notice an open door that wasn’t open before, or a potential breach at a loading dock. These flights might also protect against fire. A drone flying autonomously, for example, might detect a hot spot that wasn’t there hours before. Drones can be programmed to alert fire or police officials to check out these anomalies.
Training Demands for Drone Operation
The FAA requires anyone flying drones for commercial use to get a Part 107 remote pilot certificate.
Aquiline Drones helps operators acquire this certificate through its online drone pilot training program, called Flight to the Future.
The company initially created its virtual Flight to the Future drone pilot training program to provide new high-tech skills in a burgeoning industry to unemployed workers during the pandemic. These workers, once trained, could use their newly acquired skills for asset inspections, videography, smart farming, land surveying and mapping.
Now Aquiline Drones offers drone pilot training to all first responders nationwide. The interactive course teaches fire responders how to effectively use drones in their daily missions. Content is available on demand, so participants can finish it at their own pace and convenience.
“Besides earning an FAA Part 107 commercial pilot license, we teach participants about cloud computing, AI, the Internet of Things, and other technologies transforming the UAV industry,” Alexander says. “We tailor our firefighting curriculum to helping fire departments improve their operations using drones. We cover best practices and procedures and different types of fires, from single-story structural fires to industrial fires, wildfires, hazmat fires, damage assessments, and search and rescue.”
The program normally costs $1,299, but Aquiline is waiving this fee for first responders until the end of the year as a thank you for their service. To register, firefighters simply email [email protected]. The company will activate their account immediately.