University-backed Nebraska firm to offer firefighting drones

Drone, Photo Date: November 24, 2014 / Cropped Photo: Andrew Turner / CC BY 2.0 / (MGN)
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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers have launched a university-backed startup company to help prevent and fight wildfires with drones.

The university on Monday announced the new business venture, Drone Amplified, which is headed by Carrick Detweiler, an associate professor of computer science and engineering.

The company's drone-mounted technology carries chemical spheres the size of pingpong balls. At the press of a button, the spheres ignite, intentionally sparking small fires to burn vegetation and deprive incoming wildfires of potential fuel.

The drones can also be equipped with thermal cameras to help spot hotspots, and they can be used in situations that are unsafe for manned aircraft, such as low-visibility nighttime operations.

University researchers tested the technology in 2016 with a controlled fire at the Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice.