Can Drones Provide Actional Insight into How Wildfires Spread?
Dr. Mrinal Kumar is an associate professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, where he founded the Laboratory for Autonomy in Data-Driven and Complex Systems.
Under Mrinal’s direction, Researchers are using autonomous drones to help prevent and mitigate wildfires. As witnessed by the ongoing blazes across the U.S., wildfires are difficult to predict and fight. Flames can travel up to 14 mph in dry grass and spread in unexpected directions.
The Lab received a $1.4 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to develop an aerial robotic system. The “Integration of Autonomous UAS in Wildland Fire Management” project develops real-time situational awareness using drones to monitor the intensity and spread of wildfires. The results should help firefighting experts understand how topographic, atmospheric and forest fuel factors in temperate hardwood forests influence fire intensity and rate of spread through real-time data activation in fire behavior models.
Mrinal’s team will shadow the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ prescribed burn team into the southern state forests of Ohio, led by Greg Guess at the Division of Forestry. Prescribed burns are typically conducted late in the fall or early spring when the fuel and weather conditions are conducive to a controlled burn. The drones will undergo rigorous testing and validation, leading up to fully autonomous mission design and deployment in these prescribed burns and eventually wildfires.
Mrinal received a Ph.D. in 2009 from Texas A&M University and a Bachelor’s degree in 2004 from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, both in aerospace engineering. During 2010-16, he served as an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at University of Florida. In 2016, Dr. Kumar's group moved to The Ohio State University.
In this edition of the Drone Radio Show, Dr. Kumar talks about National Science Foundation grand and the university’s research into drones and wildfires.