NSW firefighters look to drones for future of bushfire surve…

A Ninox Robotics Perimeter 8+ drone prepares to take off for a NSW RFS day mission near Cobar. (Image: Ninox Robotics)

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) has wrapped up a two-week trial using drones to monitor grass and bush fires in the state’s west.

The mission, which completed in March, used Perimeter 8+ long-range multi-rotor drones from Ninox Robotics to transmit real-time footage both day and night, with the RFS using the data to plan outbreak detection, deployment of firefighters, and intelligence gathering on ongoing fires.

“This trial saw the use of drone technology in the scope of bush and grass fire management,” said the founder and managing director of Ninox Robotics, Marcus Ehrlich.

The drones used can operate for up to four hours at ranges of 50 kilometres from the control station, and have both dual electro-optical and infrared gimballed camera capabilities, allowing them to spot heat signatures from fires caused by lightning strikes.

Additionally, CASA granted approval for night missions near Cobar and Bourke, enabling the drones to undertake flights after dark that manned aircraft could not undertake.

According to Ehrlich, the aim is to use early identification to reduce the size and severity of fires and to provide crews with up-to-date information, adding that early detection can also reduce the climate impact of bushfires.

“This technology can provide fire agencies, like the RFS, with another important tool in the kit they can use. Anything that can support the protection of communities is a good thing and should be explored and utilised,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner Peter McKechnie said the RFS is committed to finding new technologies and innovations that can help save lives and protect property.

“The RFS recognises the critical importance of innovation in this field, with the aim to make a significant impact on emergency response capabilities,” said McKechnie.

“We look forward to seeing how this technology can be utilised to not only to protect communities but also optimise the overall performance of our agency.”

Emergency services in states such as NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia have all investigated using drones as part of firefighting capabilities.

Deb Sparkes, at the time head of innovation for the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, told Australian Aviation in 2022 that the Australian Association of Unmanned Vehicles had discussed using RPAS in bushfire detection and suppression following the Black Summer and subsequent Royal Commission.

“The National Aerial Firefighting Center (NAFC) put these programs together to look at what the current and potential uses were for our agencies and ask how could we lift that capability?” she said.

“In a factory fire, an RPAS can use thermal imagery to detect hotspots so you can direct your efforts there. For search and rescue, we can throw a drone off a cliff to look for someone, rather than sending someone down on a rope.”

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