Thursday, 08 Jun 2023

Send in the drones: how to transform Australias fight against bushfires and floods

Send in the drones: how to transform Australias fight against bushfires and floods


Send in the drones: how to transform Australias fight against bushfires and floods

In the wake of storms of the near future, swarms of drones could replace helicopters and planes, providing emergency crews with more rapid and accurate data on the coming threats of lightning-sparked bushfires or flash floods heading for homes.

Authorities now rely on satellites, which require clear weather during daytime and may only provide resolution down to 10 metres. Alternatively, pilots of aircraft may burn as much as $3,400 worth of fuel an hour and often can't fly for safety reasons.

Enter firms such as Sydney-based Carbonix, a developer that started out designing America's Cup racing yachts before changing tack to make drones capable of flying eight hours or longer with resolution fine enough to read words on a piece of paper.

Dario Valenza, chief technology officer and founder of Carbonix, says thermal cameras on the drones could quickly verify fires started by lightning in remote regions, helping to direct fire crews to the scene "with only a few per cent of the fuel" used by conventional aircraft that might have their operations curtailed by weather.

"The advantages are really being able to get information that you can use to make decisions and interventions," says Valenza. "There's now an industry that didn't exist before", combining autopilots, sensors, batteries and ultra-light carbon fibre frames.

Drones were identified in the bushfire royal commission and the NSW bushfire and flood inquiries as providing the potential for much greater use in the future to help identify and prepare for hazards.

During the 2019-20 Black Summer fires, Fire & Rescue NSW alone flew 50 missions using drones. Limitations of these so-called remotely piloted aircraft include the size of drones then available, and difficulties of flying in winds above 40kmh.

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