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Fold-Up Robot Planes Could Help Fight Fires

Fold-Up Robot Planes Could Help Fight Fires

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Ed Yeates ReportingNext year the National Forest Service here in Utah may join in a novel experiment, testing robotic planes to fight fires. Some of the aircrafts can be carried in a backpack, unfolded, then dispatched day or night to spy on a fire.

When we first saw Brigham Young University engineers demonstrating these planes they were part of an Air Force research project. Equipped with cameras, including infrared for night eyes, the pilot-less crafts are perfect for spying on the enemy or chasing down a criminal. But now the Forest Service is going to see if they've got the stomach - electronic stomach that is - to fly over wildfires.

The first experiment comes next spring when a few of the larger planes fly over a controlled burn in California. If this experiment proves out, the forest service is probably looking at a whole fleet of these small aircraft - from larger ones that say could fly at higher altitudes to smaller ones you could pull out of a backpack - that would fly through the heart of the smoke at low altitudes, right over the fire."

Randy Beard shows us a neat black model. The wings, the tail, the prop - everything unfolds ready for flight. BYU will test some of these planes over Utah wildfires next year.

Randy Beard, BYU Electrical Engineering: "Collect some data, find out what the data looks like from the airplane, and then we'll be developing vision-based guidance systems so the vehicle can actually fly itself from computer vision."

Derrick Kingston and Ryan Holt showed us a computer simulation of the future, not one but several planes flying by themselves, circling the fire, communicating with each other, with NO human intervention. Surveillance, mapping, real-time monitoring -- potentially, these little robots could do it all.

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