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Can Firefighting Drones Save Us From Catastrophe? System Could Have Slashed Damage From August Fires, CEO Claims



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With flame-ravaged communities still mired in a tough recovery after California’s worst fire season, a Silicon Valley startup says its artificially intelligent firefighting drones could help stop future catastrophes.

If drones from Rain Industries had been in position around the Bay Area during this August’s lightning storms, the aircraft could have contained 72% of the fires within 10 minutes of ignition, the Palo Alto firm’s co-founder and CEO Maxwell Brodie said. “This is a transformative technology,” Brodie said. “If it is us or someone else that does this, it doesn’t really matter. This will happen.”

After starting out with a smaller, six-rotor prototype drone that successfully doused small fires by dropping balls full of retardant, Rain is now testing autonomous aircraft resembling small helicopters that it says can fly preemptively during potentially hazardous wildfire conditions and use their infrared sensors to locate and combat flames when they first erupt. Alternatively, the drones could take to the air as soon as flames are detected by the hundreds of fire-spotting cameras already positioned throughout California, existing lightning-strike-detection antennas or weather satellites.

“We are going after and solving the rapid response piece,” Brodie said.

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