Australia — Drones could potentially be used to help fight bushfires in Australia.
Remarkable footage of devastating fires, taken last month by a drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), has prompted the emergency services and licensed UAV operators to consider them as a tool in tackling the blazes.
Spokesman Inspector Ben Shepherd, from New South Wales Rural Fire Service, said: “It’s only going to give us more advantage when working out what’s going on with the fire and what’s going on on our fire grounds.”
He added the drones could be useful for reconnaissance when deciding if areas were too dangerous for crews to enter.
After the footage was released by a drone operator, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) issued a warning asking people using unauthorised remote aircraft in the fire zone to keep away.
However, professional drone operators in Australia are saying if piloted properly and with the right licence, UAVs could prove invaluable.
Glen McGarry is co-owner of Coptercam, Australia’s biggest drone photography company.
He told Sky News: “The technology is there, it’s safe, it’s reliable. It could help find people, to search, especially where full size aircraft can’t get access or you can’t get access to an area by foot.”
American firefighters have used UAVs for some time, with the military helping track blazes using Predator drones.
Melbourne’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) is also using drones which can send high-quality images and thermal imaging back to a controller and help gather information for tactical decision-making during fires and other emergencies.
Australia is far from alone in experimenting with drones but the country has seen the number of qualified drone operators trebling in the last couple of years.
UAVs are used for everything from surveying buildings to filming sporting events.
Military-style drones are monitoring illegal fishing off Australia’s shores and there is talk about using UAVs to patrol beaches and keep swimmers and surfers safe.
One company is even researching the possibility of adding GPS to UAVs to create “courier drones”.
Privacy and safety are key to the future expansion of the industry. At present drones must fly below 400ft, keep in line of sight of the operator and not fly over populous areas.
However Mr McGarry believes, as we become more comfortable with their reliability, the future possibilities are endless.
“It’s a very exciting time. The industry is only going from strength to strength,” he said.