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Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

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NASA and U.S. Forest Service to Test UAS Wildfire Capabilities

NASA and US Forest Service researchers are evaluating advanced unmanned aerial systems technologies to expand wildfire imaging and mapping capabilities. Researchers from NASA Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, Calif.) will join Forest Service experts at a technology demonstration at the Fort Hunter Liggett Garrison near King City, Calif.

The demonstration objective is to exhibit platform and thermal imaging technologies, platform communications, data handling, autonomous operations and operations within a hazardous environment. “The ability to more easily, rapidly and accurately monitor wildfire conditions is why first responders are so interested in these new technologies,” said Vince Ambrosia, senior scientist and principal investigator of the project at Ames. Ambrosia and other team members will evaluate selected UAS capabilities for suitability of aircraft operations and wildfire imaging and mapping.

NASA is interested in evaluating platform capabilities and sensor systems and showcasing NASA-developed technologies that are of benefit to other federal and state agencies. The Forest Service is interested in evaluating UAS capabilities in an operational environment, collecting fire-related thermal imagery during a major event to help improve real-time information during a wildfire event.

Four small unmanned aerial vehicles will be present: AeroVironment PUMA, IntelliTech Microsystems’ Vector P, The Insitu Group’s Scan Eagle, and NASA Ames UAV Collaborative’s APV-3. UAS participants will demonstrate mobility, imaging and real-time air-to-ground fire information, and capabilities for effective flight and data gathering. Teams also will assess technologies for current and projected progress, possible integration and use in wildland fire management, and future testing needs. “The Forest Service feels that unmanned aerial systems provide a unique technology for adding niche capabilities to existing mapping assets,” said Everett Hinckley, Forest Service liaison and special projects group leader.

As part of its firefighting routine, the Forest Service uses piloted-aircraft mapping of wildfire areas, but it also sees UAS capability as a promising means of further improving and augmenting this technology, according to Hinckley. Because of the difficulties of simulating wildfires either in a laboratory or with small fires, the Fort Hunter Liggett Garrison fire department will use controlled burns to enable UAS data collection and assessment over a ‘real world’ scenario.

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