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Hackathon to test drones for fire fighting


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is planning a hackathon to test the use of drones in helping the emergency services respond to wildfires.

It has announced plans to run the event at the end of March in a collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in the US, highlighting the potential to combine the unmanned aerial systems with AI and machine learning algorithms.

The UK exercise will take place at the Spark Facility of Southampton Solent University, and use a synthetic digital environment created by AFRL to test how drones can identify and predict the movement of wildfires.

It will be run in parallel with a US exercise connected by video link from the Wright Brothers Institute in Dayton, Ohio.

Teams will use a number of collaboration platforms to explore different fire scenarios and work with experts from Dstl, the Fire Service and the Ministry of Defence.

Reducing burden

Tim Wright, Dstl’s aerospace systems group leader, said: “Small unmanned air systems or ‘drones’ - in the right hands - could offer a way of reducing the burden on the emergency services by mapping and tracking a wildfire in real time, autonomously, so efforts can be focused rapidly where they’re needed to save more lives.

“We are reaching out to industry, academia, tech start-ups, coders, anyone with new ideas and an interest in drones, artificial intelligence or autonomy to help us find and develop new concepts of controlling drones in the most efficient and effective ways to give as much assistance to the emergency services as possible.”

The winning UK team will be able to present a proposal for further development in Washington DC.

Image by Henrique Boney, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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