Are swarms of firefighting drones the future of firefighting? New research by engineer and mathematician Elena Ausonio and a group of Italian researchers suggests that it is possible. Forest fires are a growing problem around the world. Fire risk has increased due to climate change and changing landscape conditions, and forest fires are becoming more frequent, with significant impacts on nature and people. In recent years, almost all continents have experienced large fires that are impossible or difficult to control by conventional fire suppression methods. Elena Ausonio, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering (DIME) at the University of Genoa, has worked with Patrizia Bagnerini and Marco Ghio on the use of drone swarms in forest fire suppression. She holds a Master's degree in Civil and Architectural Engineering, and her research interests include surveying and mapping, photogrammetry, and digital cartography. Since 2018, she is a Ph.D. student in Mathematical and Simulation Engineering at the University of Genoa, Italy, working with the spin-off project Inspire (www.inspire.flights). She is passionate about following the development of UAVs and automated systems and is a licensed UAV pilot herself. She presented her work to us to learn more about the potential of drones in this field. This paper, "Swarms of UAVs in Fire Suppression Activities: A Conceptual Framework," outlines how UAVs can fight forest fires or support traditional fire suppression methods. The researchers propose a system consisting of a swarm of drones, each capable of carrying a payload of 5 to 50 kilograms. These drones would act as a unified system, following a grid network to perform their respective tasks. In this regard, swarms of drones have significant advantages over traditional aerial firefighting methods (such as helicopters or aircraft), as Elena Ausonio describes: "Swarms of drones using a repositionable service platform can be deployed immediately, enabling rapid response and use in any visibility conditions, during the day and at night, without requiring nearby available pools. Consider that in most countries, for safety reasons, firefighting aircraft can only fly during daylight hours and can only make limited drops per hour due to the distance to the refill point. Another essential feature is that the drone swarm is a truly unmanned solution: the drones do not endanger the lives of aircraft pilots and firefighters, who often have to operate in quite dangerous conditions. It is a precise and flexible system because flight plans, target areas, etc., can be accurately outlined and modified in real-time as conditions evolve for the fire. Finally, the UAV swarm-based solution can be easily scaled to meet specific emergency needs." In addition, swarms of drones can take advantage of the so-called rainfall effect. Because water evaporation has a significant effect on fire suppression, distributed use of fire suppression water can do more than just a little good. This rainfall effect can be simulated with many small swarms. Technical challenges A functional swarm of drones must meet complex requirements to be used effectively for firefighting. In addition to the drones being able to cooperate successfully, they must also automatically charge or change the drones' batteries and successfully fill them with fire suppression fluid. Then there is the rapid deployment of a swarm of drones in a mobile unit, such as a truck or a base station near a fire area. Ausonio believes these challenges can be overcome in the future, "Technology is evolving further every day. Autonomous firefighting systems require a combination of technologies, including computer vision, artificial intelligence, object avoidance, fire-resistant materials, and rapid repair mechanisms. At this time, we continue our research by looking at hybrid UAVs that can provide greater efficiency and transport of water and fire suppression fluids. I, Inspire, and the research team at the University of Genoa continue to improve our platform UAS with the hope that key players understand that the use of UAVs for forest fire suppression is possible and feasible soon."
Looking to the future, all in all, this research paints a positive picture for the future use of swarms of drones for wildland fire suppression. Swarms of automated drones can be deployed quickly and flexibly, helping control fires swiftly, tiny ones. It is also conceivable that swarms could be used to supplement traditional fire suppression methods. Osornio is optimistic about the future and hopes to see more research in this area, "I am convinced that drones, small, medium and large, are the future of forest fire suppression. Of course, much research and experimentation are still necessary, but for me, the great advantages their use can provide are obvious. There has been a major technological advancement in the last few years that suggests we will see swarms of drones fighting fires in this decade." The use of drone swarms to fight forest and brush fires is likely just the beginning of a shift in firefighting. Finally, we wanted to find out from Elena Ausonio how she sees swarms of drones fighting fires in urban areas: "I envision the use of firefighting drones in urban, urbanized and densely populated areas. I think they are perfect for dealing with fires in buildings, especially on the upper floors of buildings, where firefighters and their ground vehicles would have more trouble. Not only can the drones extinguish flames in the rooms closest to the outer openings of the exterior walls, but they can also bring fire support materials, such as fire blankets or parachutes, to people who may be trapped inside the building. They would also be a valuable tool in the event of a fire, where fragile structures cannot withstand high overloads, such as the weight of water droplets from helicopters and Canadian airlines. For example, the La Fenice Theatre fire in Venice in 1996 and the Notre Dame fire in Paris in 2019 come to mind. Some companies and startups experimenting in this area have made initial attempts. Still, because of the system's autonomy, our hypothetical system can respond quickly to requests for intervention and act consistently and effectively."
Source：Global Drone Network