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Drone swarms fight forest fires

by Pieter Werner

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) are developing a system using multiple swarms of drones to address forest fires. The use of individual drones in fire situations is limited due to the rapid spread of fires. The proposed solution involves a coordinated approach where multiple drones, equipped with cameras, thermal and infrared sensors, and temperature detectors, work together.

These drones are designed to communicate with each other and make independent decisions. In a potential fire scenario, the drones can quickly be deployed to locate the fire. The drone nearest to the fire acts as a central point, guiding others to the location. Each drone can assess the size and potential spread of the fire, determining the number of drones needed to effectively address it.

The drones’ behavior is controlled by a swarm-based search algorithm, inspired by the foraging behavior of Oxyrrhis marina, a marine predator. This algorithm allows drones to adjust their search patterns based on proximity to the fire, detected through their temperature sensors.

The decentralized decision-making process of the drones ensures efficient use of resources, as only the necessary number of drones are allocated to each fire cluster. Components of this system, such as AI-enabled fire detection and payload drop mechanisms, have been tested, but full-scale field testing is still pending.

The researchers also envisage potential applications of these drone swarms in other natural disaster scenarios, such as floods and earthquakes, for survivor location, delivery of essentials, and communication support.

Photo: Multiple swarms of drones for testing the proposed approach for disaster management. The image depicts search and mitigation for two targets illustrated as white circles by three swarms of drones. Credit artificial Intelligence and Robotics Laboratory, Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science (IISc)


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