Fire, infrastructure and legislation

Author: Carlos Delgado (UNVEX’s organization)

It is virtually impossible to pay attention to every single application that drones have today. Technology has made the new autonomous systems take on the toughest tasks of almost any industry.

The drone technology in the public service has a great acceptance, as much for the activities to carry out as for its effectiveness. The visibility of the drone is immediate, and it reflects the usefulness of technological innovation at the service of the citizen.

One of the applications where the UAV implementation has been more successful is in firefighting, to the point that the figure of the drone begins to feel like an essential tool in the operational planning of firefighting.

In Spain, last year more than 70,000 fires and nearly 30,000 hectares of burned area were declared. Recently, the fire in Tamadaba Natural Park, declared a biosphere reserve of Gran Canaria, burned more than 8,000 hectares and caused the displacement of some 10,000 residents.

With this precedents, the news from Telefónica about its Drones Antifire Project is of the utmost importance. In collaboration with the Carlos III University and the companies Divisek and Dronitec, Telefónica seeks to take advantage of the telecommunications towers that it has throughout the country as a structural element to develop this project.

The idea is based on equipping the telephone towers with thermal sensors that can detect any possible source of fire in a perimeter of up to 15 km. Inside these towers is a hangar with a drone.

When a fire is detected, the drone goes to the focus equipped with a series of specific sensors, such as a thermal camera, optics, different thermal sensors,… sending in real time all the information it captures, even in conditions of low visibility.

According to the infrastructure technician at Telefónica España, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez: “the aim of this project is to be able to provide the administrations in charge of fighting forest fires with the means to take better decisions at the first moments, which can contribute to an incipient fire not evolving into a great fire”.

But not only in the fight against fire, in the prevention and fight against natural disasters in general, the drones are taking more and more prominence. The words of Christian Ramsey, president of uAvionix, bring up this very point about Hurricane Dorian: “In recent years, the use of drones in hurricane and natural disaster recovery efforts has increased significantly due to the value of real-time data collected in combination with ease of deployment”.

Linked to all this is the use of autonomous systems for the use of first aid, search or rescue. Three out of four U.S. public safety agencies, including emergency services, say they are already operating drones or working on their implementation.

Evolution in integrated systems, different optics, real-time data transmission, short-wave and long-wave infrared, new and improved propulsion systems and batteries or vertical take-off and landing capability (VTOL) have made drone technology ideal for surveillance. Not only for the prevention of fires or natural disasters but also for the inspection of infrastructures.

As it turns out, dron technology is revolutionizing the way things are done in the vast majority of sectors. In many cases it is more effective, faster, cheaper and safer. Take, for example, the inspection of buildings. That’s why Boston Properties, owner of San Francisco’s tallest tower, the Salesforce Tower, looked for partners to inspect the skyscraper with drones.

The variants in the subject of aerial inspections are almost infinite, from the inspection in buildings, electric lines or chimneys, to towers of communications, highways and bridges, oil and gas pipelines and for it the evolution of an inertial navigation system without dependence on GPS is fundamental.

Throughout all its editions, UNVEX witnessed the spectacular evolution of the industry of drones, systems and sensors, and the ever-increasing scope in applications where its use is also increasingly widespread. We have seen in previous paragraphs the usefulness in the inspection of infrastructures, in the protection against fires and in the prevention of natural disasters and of course its use in Defense and Security is indisputable.

Progress, as we have said, has been enormous, however, this continuous evolution is threatened by the bureaucratic barrier. Legislation and integration of drones into European airspace is still a utopian reality.

The goal to be achieved is the integration of the particularities of unmanned aircraft flights with other conventional aircraft as a matter of course, and in order to achieve this operation, there are many challenges along the way.

If the U-Space relies on the long term, not so much the transitional measures and regulations that the European Union is developing and that will come into force from next year.

Three of the main measures would be:

  • Mandatory registration of operators.
  • Electronic identification of the device.
  • Geo-consciousness.

Studies have shown that unmanned aircraft with a take-off mass of 250 g. or more would pose serious risks in the event of an incident, but also if the unmanned aircraft carries some kind of device capable of capturing personal data, bearing in mind what this might mean for privacy and data protection. Hence the mandatory registration of operators.

Likewise, there is the electronic identification of the device in order to be able to locate it at any time. It will no longer be valid only with the fireproof identification plate that collected the data of the manufacturer, type, model or serial number.

Finally, geo-consciousness. The implementation of a software to the aircraft that includes a series of virtual geo-barriers through which the drone is forbidden to pass. These barriers are identified with restricted use spaces such as hospitals, nuclear power plants or sensitive spaces that may affect security and defense.

More and more applications, a market in constant growth, technological innovation… everything working at cruising speed, until we come across the slow pace of legislation and bureaucracy, surely inevitable, but that does not make us give up the final idea: the technology of drones at the service of the common good.

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