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See the innovative wildfire fighting tech being developed at NASA and beyond

Members of Congress, public and private partners come together to take on fire season

Drones are rapidly becoming a key piece of the fire response puzzle, and scientists at Ames are looking to accelerate that technology by tapping into NASA’s vast aeronautics resources.

Zach Roberts, chief of the Aeronautics Projects Office and part of NASA Ames’ Smart Mobility team, said drones can do “everything from building infrastructure inspection, up to using the thermal infrared cameras for detecting wildfires” – essentially serving as an eye in the sky instead of putting a human pilot’s life at risk during unsafe conditions.

Rain: ‘The thing that everyone prays for’

A Rain unmanned aircraft on display at a wildfire technology showcase at NASA Ames in Mountain View on April 13, 2023. The company said the aircraft could be particularly useful in fighting blazes in remote locations. Photo by Magali Gauthier.
Ephraim Nowak, chief engineer at Rain, explains how unmanned aircrafts can be used for fire supression at a wildfire technology showcase at NASA Ames in Mountain View on April 13, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Alameda-based company Rain aims to make catastrophic wildfires in California a thing of the past.

“Essentially what we’re doing is enabling automated aircraft to join the fire fight,” said Ephraim Nowak, chief engineer at Rain. “Our company is called Rain – it’s the thing that everyone prays for when there’s a wildfire.

The piece of technology that Rain brought to the April 13 showcase looked like a small white helicopter, but it packs a big punch when it comes to fire suppression: the unmanned aircraft can release water or fire retardant on fires in remote locations. Rain’s long term vision is to station its automated aircraft in high wildfire risk regions, so they’re never more than a few minutes away from potential ignitions. The company believes that a network of about 200 Rain Stations could end catastrophic wildfires in California by 2030.

“So if you think about it kind of like how fire sprinklers revolutionized firefighting against buildings, and cut down 95% of structure losses, we’re essentially building fire sprinklers for the forest,” Nowak said.

Aero Systems West and Komodo: Stopping fires before they start

An Aero Systems West drone that can fly for about 50 minutes without any weight, and about 20 minutes while carrying up to 70 pounds, on display at a wildfire technology showcase at NASA Ames in Mountain View on April 13, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Morgan Hill-based Komodo has developed liquid and powder products that put out flames more effectively than water. Right now, the company is developing a product that can be sprayed on the land and makes it resistant to catching fire.

“As the green hills start to dry up, and they become fuel,” explained Shawn Sahbari, president and CEO of Komodo. “You can put (the product) down in May or June, and it’ll last for the remainder of the year. And you can take a torch, and you won’t be able to burn it.”

That’s where Aero Systems West comes in. The San Martin-based company’s industrial drones that can fly for about 50 minutes without any weight, and about 20 minutes while carrying up to 70 pounds.

CTO Danny Neal brought the company’s largest drone to the showcase. He said that Aero Systems West is currently developing a spray rig that could attach to their drones, allowing it to distribute Komodo’s product onto the land via drone.

“This is a California problem, we’re a California technology company,” said Komodo CEO Sahbari. “So that’s what drives us every day.”

Menlo Park Fire District: Revolutionizing search and rescue

Private companies aren’t the only ones innovating: Local public agencies like the Menlo Park Fire District are using drones to keep the community safe.

Technical Operations Specialist Tom Owen said the fire district uses drones in various capacities, from heat mapping a structure fire to constructing aerial renderings of accident scenes.

Drones are also essential tools when making rescues. Owen recalled one incident where a local man purchased a kayak off Amazon, took it out into the Bay, and got stuck.

“He thought he knew where he was, but he was wrong,” said Owen. “I found him with the drone. I can put a dot on him and get the location of the dot, and give the dot to the battalion chief. He radioed the airboat, the airboat came and scooped him up, and everybody slept in their own bed that night.”

Originally posted at FOX2 KTVU:

Below, left to right: Shawn Sahbari (CEO of KOMODO); Chief Harold Schapelhouman (Ret. Fire Captain); Danny Neal (ASW CTO)

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Aero Systems West is a leader in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry, specializing in custom UAV builds, software design, and payload integration. Our team of experts has years of experience in the aerospace and defense industries and are dedicated to providing top-quality products and services to our customers. Learn more about our company and the services we offer by exploring our website or contacting us directly. 

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