A Survey on Robotic Technologies for Forest Firefighting: Applying Drone Swarms to Improve Firefighters’ Efficiency and Safety
- What are the main problems in current forest firefighting missions?
- How can robotic technologies contribute to solving them?
2. Firefighting State
2.1. Problem Survey
- Importance of prevention tasks: As previously mentioned, there are two prevention strategies: those focused on causes and those centered on combustibles. This question seeks the importance that professionals give to each one of these strategies.
- Problems in prevention tasks: This question seeks to find the most relevant problems in current prevention activities, according to the opinions of firefighters.
- Importance of surveillance means: As previously pointed out, forest fires can be detected by citizen collaboration, ground watchmen, and aerial means. This question seeks the importance that professionals give to each one of these means.
- Problems in surveillance tasks: This question seeks to find the most relevant problems in current surveillance activities, according to the opinions of firefighters.
- Problems in extinguishing tasks: This question seeks to find the most relevant problems in current extinguishing activities, according to the opinions of firefighters.
2.2. Technology Survey
- Prevention: The survey considers a solution of prevention on causes (incentive systems for farmers/ranchers to prevent their use of fire) and two solutions of prevention on combustibles (drone and satellite images to support the preparation of vegetation). In this way, two comparisons can be performed: one among the two strategies for prevention, and another between the two technologies that support the vegetation preparation.
- Surveillance: The survey considers two detection systems: one with drones and another with fixed cameras. In this way, the target technology can be compared with a well-known and widely-used surveillance system. Additionally, it includes the use of artificial intelligence to predict the risk of fire, which allows performing this task over specific areas.
- Extinguishing: The survey asks about the application of drones to monitor the evolution of fires. In addition, it considers three alternatives to receive the information during field operations: an immersive interface, a mobile device, and a voice assistant. In this way, the target technology can be compared to two common methods to receive information.
3. Firefighting Robots
4. System Overview
- Prevention: This phase groups the tasks that seek to avoid fires from occurring and control their spread.Vegetation mapping: In this task, the drones fly over an area of interest to take ground pictures and build a vegetation map. The number of drones, flight pattern and altitude, and other variables can be tuned to efficiently cover the area and obtain high-quality images. The drones must integrate conventional and multispectral cameras to perform this task. The base station processes images, build a mosaic, detect trees and plants, and recommend actions to the firefighters.Fire investigation: This task is developed after the fire is detected. The objective is to find evidence to identify and pursue the perpetrators of the fire. For this purpose, the drones must search around the fire to detect suspicious people, objects, and situations, monitoring static targets, and tracking mobile targets. Although this task is performed after the fire has occurred and the drones have detected it, it is considered a prevention task because it can prevent the occurrence of more outbreaks of the fire. In practice, few drones can perform this task while the rest are carrying out extinguishing tasks.
- Surveillance: This phase considers the tasks that seek to detect fires and alarm firefighting teams early.Risk mapping: This task is very similar to vegetation mapping, but creating a map with the risk of fire. This map is useful to know in which areas there is more probability of fire and reinforce surveillance over them. The drones must be equipped with conventional and thermal cameras to perform this task.Fire surveillance: In this task, the drones fly over an area of interest looking for potential fires. When one of the drones detects a possible fire, this or another drone must fly closer to check it. For this purpose, the drones must integrate conventional and thermal cameras, as well as environmental sensors: temperature, humidity, and concentrations of combustion gases.
- Extinguishing: This phase groups the task aimed at extinguishing fires and supporting firefighters.Fire monitoring: This task is performed to collect information about the fire while the teams on the ground extinguish it. Spatial and temporal information is useful to know the outline of the fire, locate new sources, and predict its evolution. For this purpose, the drones must fly around the fire to incorporate new information from the periphery while keeping updated information from the center. This task needs the same equipment in the drones as risk mapping and fire surveillance.Firefighter support: This task aims at supporting the firefighters that are working on the ground to extinguish the fire. For this purpose, the drones must fly around the firefighting teams to collect data about their surroundings and recommend them safe paths and effective actions. Additionally, the drones can transport light resources to firefighters, such as communication devices and protection equipment.
4.2. Drone Swarm
- Size and weight: No more than 1600 × 1600 × 800 mm unfolded and 15 kg including drone and payload.
- Autonomy: A minimum of 30 min of flight.
- Navigation: Fusion of IMU measurements, visual odometry and GPS/GLONASS/ GALILEO signal.
- Control: Capability of reaching and hovering on waypoints.
- Communications: Telemetry and video links in a range of 5 km.
- Payload: Conventional, thermal, and multispectral cameras, as well as temperature, humidity, and gas sensors.
- Search: This task involves flying over an area of interest to find some targets, covering every point in that area at least once.
- Surveillance: This task involves flying over an area of interest to find some targets, covering every point multiple times to get updated data.
- Reconnaissance: This task involves flying to a list of points of interest to acquire data.
- Mapping: This task involves flying over an area of interest to build a map, covering every point once to acquire images or data.
- Monitoring: This task involves flying over an event of interest to acquire data.
- Support: This task involves flying over teams that work on the ground to provide them with information about their environment.
- Tracking: This task involves following a mobile target to acquire information or control it.
- Transport: This task involves taking a load from one point to another.
- Mission commander: They monitor and controls the mission from the base station, which does not have to be in the fire scenario. All the data collected by the drones is received in the base station and processed to obtain valuable information. Therefore, the mission commander has access to full information on the mission, including the telemetries of drones and measurements on the fire. They must use this information to manage the mission, coordinating the teams on the ground and commanding the swarm. The drone swarm is controlled through high-level commands (e.g., defining areas of interest, variables that must be measured, and required tasks) instead of through low-level orders (e.g., sending specific waypoints and actions to specific drones). This feature is one of the most remarkable strengths of robot swarms, which can self configure to accomplish tasks most accurately, efficiently, and safely. Finally, the mission commander communicates with the team leaders to deliver high-level orders for their teams, establishing the areas where they must work, the tasks that they must perform, and the resources that they can use.
- Team leader: They work in the fire scenario, preferably in a facility or vehicle to ensure communications with the base station. The task of a team leader is to coordinate the field operations of a firefighting team. For this purpose, they receive high-level orders from the mission commander (e.g., area of work and tasks to be performed) and sends low-level commands to the team (e.g., move along a path and attack some flames). In this role, local information is managed both geographically and functionally, that is, the events that happen in the work area and affect the performed tasks.
- Team members: They work in the fire scenario, executing prevention, surveillance, and extinguishing tasks. For this purpose, they can exercise their workforce or use different types of vehicles and machinery. They have access to limited local information, mainly related to the paths that must follow and the actions that must perform. The amount of information should be limited to avoid distractions, but should be enough to ensure their safety.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
|ESA||European Space Agency|
|GCS||Ground Control Station|
|GLONASS||Global’naya Navigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema|
|GNC||Guidance, Navigation and Control|
|GNSS||Global Navigation Satellite System|
|GPS||Global Positioning System|
|IMU||Inertial Measurement Unit|
|LIDAR||Light Detection and Ranging|
|MVP||Minimum Viable Product|
|NASA||National Aeronautics and Space Administration|
|UAV||Unmanned Aerial Vehicle|
|UGV||Unmanned Ground Vehicle|
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|Missions||Specific Tasks||Generic Tasks|
|Fire investigation||Search, Monitoring, Tracking|
|Fire surveillance||Surveillance, Reconnaissance|
|Extinguishing||Fire monitoring||Monitoring, Search|
|Firefighter support||Support, Transport|
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Roldán-Gómez, J.J.; González-Gironda, E.; Barrientos, A. A Survey on Robotic Technologies for Forest Firefighting: Applying Drone Swarms to Improve Firefighters’ Efficiency and Safety. Appl. Sci. 2021, 11, 363. https://doi.org/10.3390/app11010363
Roldán-Gómez JJ, González-Gironda E, Barrientos A. A Survey on Robotic Technologies for Forest Firefighting: Applying Drone Swarms to Improve Firefighters’ Efficiency and Safety. Applied Sciences. 2021; 11(1):363. https://doi.org/10.3390/app11010363Chicago/Turabian Style
Roldán-Gómez, Juan Jesús, Eduardo González-Gironda, and Antonio Barrientos. 2021. "A Survey on Robotic Technologies for Forest Firefighting: Applying Drone Swarms to Improve Firefighters’ Efficiency and Safety" Applied Sciences 11, no. 1: 363. https://doi.org/10.3390/app11010363