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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Insitu Pacific Demonstrates Advanced UAS Fire Monitoring

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Today May 15, 2014] Imagine having advanced notice of an approaching wildfire coupled with real-time video streaming of the developing flames on your smart phone, tablet and laptop. 

Insitu Pacific recently conducted a successful demonstration for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service that was able to do just that. The demonstration featured the company's ScanEagle Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), General Dynamics Mediaware's next-generation video exploitation system, D-VEX, streaming full-motion video imagery along with geo-location information in near real-time with downlink assistance from the Amazon cloud. 

"We actually had local fire commanders on site, using iPhones and tablets to actually use the video in real time coming down from the cloud. We also had it being relayed up to the Queensland fire and emergency services center so they could actually display the video in real time at their live command center," said Andrew Duggan, managing director of Insitu Pacific.

"We wanted to demonstrate that it was useful both locally to the fire commanders on the ground but also in a more remote sense that fire commanders at the base level could actually be observing the video in real time as well," Duggan added. 

The demonstration occurred in January over the Wollemi National Park, where fires have burned more than 35,000 hectares of bush land since December 2013. The Scan Eagle was operated at night, and was able to monitor and report on the movement one the fire, which is difficult to perform at low altitude with manned aircraft due to the high risk factors involved. 

Duggan calls the technology a "game changer" for emergency services and first responders. 

Kevin Moore, the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of General Dynamics Mediaware, said that the use of the Amazon cloud service was also crucial to distributing the imagery to remotely located fire fighters. Moore believes the combination of the Scan Eagle, D-VEX and the cloud could be helpful to small communities that are frequently impacted by wild fires. 

"This is the first time we had demonstrated this cloud based ISR [Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance] dissemination platform," said Moore. "The key here is that because it’s cloud based you can scale up the capabilities. So if you wanted this to go to a very small community you could use a small cloud service but if you really wanted to serve this in a very time sensitive way, then the beauty of the cloud is that you can very rapidly dial up its capability to handle many connections. So we're taking the limited distribution from the ground and then using the cloud to be able to supply that to as many people as we need to."

The demonstration also shows how the lower air traffic and population density in countries like Australia allow more advanced, beyond line of sight civil UAS applications to occur, Duggan said. The FAA-equivalent Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Australia actually released its first formal regulation of commercial UAS applications in 1998. 

However, Duggan said CASA is now revising those rules to provide regulation for the more advanced commercial UAS applications that were not possible 16 years ago. 

Insitu Pacific's managing director was also impressed with the growth of the UAS industry that is displayed at AUVSI every year. 

"Moore's law really does apply. Every year it’s amazing how much technology can be packed into a smaller package. What we're seeing here is both the UAV systems are getting smaller, and the way we disseminate information using a tool like D-VEX is getting smarter," said Duggan. 

"There's a lot of talking this year about commercial mission sets and when they will be viable and what commercial customers would want to be tackling first, so again I think we've led the world a little bit here with this particular trial and using D-VEX to spread the information to a wide number of people so that they can actually act on it. We'd like to see some of that come back to the U.S. also." 

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