Drone Using IoT Tech Could Lead to Earlier Detection of Forest Fires

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An automatic flight system with real-time connectivity could help prevent large-scale forest fires by locating and detecting fires where and when they start and communicating this information to emergency services in real time. The system, composed of drone technology developed by the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and a communication system developed by Telefónica, can detect the origin of a fire within a perimeter of up to 15 kilometers, or a little over 9 miles.

Telefonica has communications towers located throughout the area around Madrid that are equipped with thermal sensors. Within the towers there is a hangar with a drone, equipped with sensors and both a thermal and an optical camera. When the thermal sensors in the communications towers detect a fire, they send an alert to the drone with the location of where the fire could have started. The drone flies to that location, collects optical and thermal images, and sends the information it collects to the emergency services center in real time.

Using drones to fight forest fires in Spain, Telefonica, UC3M.
Telefónica, in collaboration with the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Divisek, and Dronitec, conducted a pilot study with drones based on IoT solutions for early fire detection. Courtesy of Telefónica.

The system allows the emergency control center to take control of the drone at any time to gather additional information and track the burned area. Once the drone’s mission is complete, it returns to its hangar and recharges automatically.

A pilot study was conducted in collaboration with the emergency services of the Madrid Autonomous Region. UC3M, Telefónica, Divisek, and Dronitec participated. UC3M developed the entire autonomous flight system and the interface that the emergency service uses to view information in real time; Divisek developed the autonomous drone recharging system; and Dronitec collaborated with the other three organizations in all the services associated with the drone. Telefónica's existing infrastructure was used to provide the real-time data connectivity.

The new system, based on robotics and automation, could allow emergency services to operate more safely and to better control wildfires. The objective, the researchers said, is to stay ahead of the information that is received on fire outbreaks, improve decision-making, and reduce the severity of forest fires in Spain, which is the European country most affected by these fires, according to data gathered in 2018.

“Thanks to IoT technology, fires can be detected early and vital information can be known to make better decisions at an early stage, which can help to quell an emerging fire so that it does not lead to a large devastating one,” said Vicente Muñoz, chief IoT officer of Telefónica.

Published: June 2019
thermal imaging
The process of producing a visible two-dimensional image of a scene that is dependent on differences in thermal or infrared radiation from the scene reaching the aperture of the imaging device.
Research & TechnologyeducationEuropeImagingOpticsSensors & Detectorscamerasinfrared camerasthermal camerasthermal imagingdronesenvironmentCommunicationsautomatic flight systemaerospaceautomationroboticsThe News Wire

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