UNL startup creates firefighting drone

Published: Oct. 28, 2019 at 10:41 PM CDT
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A University of Nebraska Lincoln start-up is aiming to give firefighters and beyond a new resource when it comes to fighting wildfires.

It hopes to bring a smaller, more affordable option to the market while still saving lives, property and time when it comes to fighting wildfires.

IGNIS is a drone that drops spheres that intentionally starts fires to burn vegetation and starve incoming wildfires of potential fuel.

“You burn ahead of the fire to eliminate fuels in the path of the fire,” said Jim Higgins, the Chief Engineer. “When the fire burns up it just extinguishes itself.”

This is the second version of IGNIS. It can hold 450 little spheres at a time, filled with chemicals that intentionally start fires.

“They fall from the sky and they ping pong through the trees to allow it to reach the ground where it can ignite the fuels that are there,” said Higgins. “That creates a chemical reaction that gets hot enough to burst into flames and you get about a three minute burn out of these ping pong bolls when you drop them.”

The system is controlled by an app that allows user to monitor everything from mission duration, where the spheres are set to drop and even setting a boundary for the drone so it doesn’t drop outside of the desired area.

“Plan out the flight path of the drone,” said Evan Beachly, the Chief App Developer. “As well as tell it along these sections of the flight path of the drone I want you to drop ignition spheres along here so we can ignite these lines.”

Right now many of its users are outside of the state. It was used in August of 2018 during the Klondike fire in Oregon.

A drone is obviously a lot less expensive than a helicopter.

“Basically anywhere it’s too rugged, too expensive or too dangerous to send people into IGNIS is a great use in that case.”

The company has proposed its drone to be used in California to fight wildfires but they say that officials there are wary to use the technology of intentional burning.