Forest Service seeks info on drones to create prescribed burns



The U.S. Forest Service is requesting information from industry about using drones to create controlled burns to help fight forest fires.
In a year when fires have raged out of control in the West, particularly California, the Forest Service has posted a request for information about how drones could create controlled or prescribed burns, also known as hazard reduction burning, to reduce the amount of fuel available to a fire.
The RFI, which has a response date of Jan. 25, may also include a live demonstration of an “aerial ignition system,” according to an RFI posted on Federal Business Opportunities. Such a demonstration could occur between February and May 2019.
Any UAS used in the demonstration should be able to create ignitions in a set pattern, by using droppable plastic spheres or similar devices. 
“Alternatives such as gelled fuel, solid fuels, electric current, or some other method to reliably ignite vegetation may be acceptable,” the RFI says.
However, it also notes that “the government does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this RFI or to otherwise pay for the information solicited,” which is for planning purposes only — no funds have been authorized or appropriated to pay for it.
This won’t be the first time that drones have been used to create prescribed burns. In 2016, researchers from the University of Nebraska created such burns by dropping ping-pong ball-sized ignition balls in a demonstration of its Unmanned Aerial System for Fire Fighting concept.

Below: A University of Nebraska prototype drone drops fire-starting balls in a 2016 demo. Photo: University of Nebraska

A University of Nebraska prototype drone drops fire-starting balls. Photo: University of Nebraska