MONTREAL -- A Concordia University research team is arguing that drones are the way of the future for monitoring and combating forest fires in Canada's vast boreal forest.


Professor Youmin Zhang and his team delivered a paper at the 3rd International Symposium on Autonomous Systems that outlined the ways unmanned aerial vehicles - UAVs or, more commonly, drones - have been used to detect and monitor forest fires already, and the benefits they have over traditional monitoring methods such as watchtowers, satellites, human-piloted planes and walking patrols.

Drones, Zhang argued, do not get bored, do not need to be as close as traditional temperature and smoke detectors, and do not cause as many false alarms as traditional methods.

"Bascially, we want to use drones to provide solutions in an environment that may be dangerous to humans or very tedious," he said.

Concordia professor Youmin Zhang

Drones equipped with sophisticated optoelectronic technology would capture visual or infrared images while travelling pre-programmed flight paths around or near fire-prone areas.

A human on the ground would oversee and coordinate the response if necessary.

Zhang and his co-authors Anim Hossain and Chi Yuan (both Concordia students) are developing algorithms that would help drones track and predict blazes.

The team admitted that work remains to be done in this relatively young field.