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Here’s How Drones Could Help With California’s Wildfire Problems

November 30, 2018, 4:58 AM UTC

A string of devastating wildfires have raged across California in 2018, leading to what is likely the state’s worst season in history. Just under a week earlier, California managed to contain its single deadliest fire in its history after battling the blaze for 14 days. California state officials have reported 85 civilian deaths so far from the conflagration and three firefighter injuries.

Now, some are looking to technology to help ameliorate the threat.

“I’ve been obsessed with this idea that we could put these drones out to fight fires,” said Arnaud Thiercelin, Head of R&D at drone-maker DJI North America at the Fortune Global Tech Forum in Guangzhou Friday.

Though suppressing wildfires are often multi day events, during the fire nothing can fly at night, says Thiercelin. But unmanned drones that can detect obstacles even under the cover of darkness may be able to help.

“Imagine a fleet of 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 drones carry just a small amount of water each. But they never stop bringing that water as a constant chain,” he said. “I call this idea the aerial aqueduct and I’m trying to push forward.”

Already, California has been using drones to help with rescue missions and firefighting. For example, the California Air National Guard drones have used unmanned aerial vehicles to track the movement of the blaze.

To Thiercelin, helping with wildfires is just one of many ways drones could be useful. He envisions a where the unmanned aircrafts can take over jobs that he dubs the “dirty, the dull, the dangerous.”

“We are facing problems in the world that are bigger than people,” said Thiercelin of the wildfires. “We are supporting a lot of efforts to point our drones in these scenario where they can really really help.”