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Health, Science & Environment

OSU Researchers Examining Effectiveness Of Drones In Fighting Wildfires


Ohio may not be a hotbed for wildfires, but some Ohio State University researchers hope to lead the way in discovering how drones can help fight wildfires.

“We would like to take people out of dangerous situations.,” said OSU Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Associate Professor, Mrinal Kumar.

Kumar is leading a team that received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The money will help develop autonomous-unmanned aerial systems technology to prevent and mitigate wildfires.

“One of the key areas we want to focus on is whether these unmanned platforms in the air can make decisions for themselves as they try and optimize the reconnaissance of information from the ground while trying to keep humans as far away from the situation areas as possible,” said Kumar.

OSU is working with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry. Some of the key areas they will examine include the different challenges faced when using drones to monitor the spread of wildfires and their intensity. They will also look at topographic, atmospheric, and forest fuel conditions and how that affects the intensity of fires and how fast they can spread.

Kumar said climate change could play a role in where wildfires occur.

“The sheer number of wildfires in the Eastern U.S. is actually more, greater than the number of wildfires in the Western U.S.,” said Kumar. “It’s just that they’re not as big and they don’t effect people living in urban areas as much yet.”

The OSU researchers will follow ODNR’s burn team into southern Ohio forests for prescribed burns. They will use the drone systems to help answer questions about fighting wildfires.

“Where do we need them more,” questions Kumar. “Do we need them more on the road? Or do we need them more in these hazardous situations where we can assist human rather than put humans in danger?”

The four-year research into drones and wildfires starts in January 2022.

Health, Science & Environment WildfiresOSUOhio StateODNR
Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.