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Drones could help predict fire paths, say researchers

Irony: bushfire research funding dries up

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As Australia lurches from fiery catastrophe to fiery catastrophe, researchers have proposed the use of drones to provide better predictions of how bushfires may behave.

Speaking to IT News, University of Melbourne researcher Dr Thomas Duff said fire prediction depends on data-gathering. As part of the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), Dr Duff helped develop modeling software called Phoenix RapidFire, which received $21 million in funding in 2010 and is now able to produce predictions in minutes rather than hours.

With such rapid modelling available, the delays in gathering the necessary input data (for example, from satellite imaging or conventional aircraft) have emerged as the bottleneck. Here’s where drones would be valuable, providing an affordable platform for widespread deployment as an eye-in-the-sky.

Dr Duncan Campbell, who works with a joint CSIRO, Queensland University of Technology and Boeing project at the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation, told the publication suitable drones could be available within two years, since the chief hurdles are regulatory rather than in the sensing technology.

To help understand the current event, the CRC is dispatching researchers to badly-affected areas in Tasmania to study

With Australia experiencing a heatwave so severe that the Bureau of Meteorology had to add new legend colours to its maps to represent the unprecedented temperatures, it seems ironic that the Bushfire CRC reaches the end of its research funding in June 2013.

As this statement from the CRC’s CEO Gary Morgan notes, the group has managed to retain enough budget to last until 2014, by which time it may be able to secure research dollars under a new Disaster Resilience CRC. ®

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