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Feds To Deploy Anti-Drone Software Near Wildfires (thehill.com) 170

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: Federal officials are launching a new "geofencing" program to alert drone pilots when they're flying too close to wildfire prevention operations. The Department of Interior said Monday it would deploy software warnings to pilots when their drones pose a risk to the aircraft used by emergency responders fighting wildfires. The agency said there have been 15 instances of drones interfering with firefighter operations this year, including several leading to grounded aircraft. Drone-related incidents doubled between 2014 and 2015, the agency said. Officials built the new warning system with the drone industry, and the agency said manufacturers could eventually use it to build drones that automatically steer away from wildfire locations. The program is in its pilot phase, the agency said; officials hope to have a full public release in time for next year's wildfire season. "No responsible drone operator wants to endanger the lives of the men and women who work to protect them and we believe this program, which uses the global positioning system to create a virtual barrier, will move us one step closer to eliminating this problem for wildfire managers," Mark Bathrick, the director of the Interior Department's Office of Aviation Service, said in a statement.
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Feds To Deploy Anti-Drone Software Near Wildfires

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  • by plopez ( 54068 )

    Just vac and let it burn already. If you can't suppress them it is a waste of money, if you do suppress them there will be larger fires at a later date. Save $$$ and spend it on better management.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      if you do suppress them there will be larger fires at a later date

      At a later date, you can do controlled burns when conditions are more favorable and manageable. And some of the same techniques used to contain wildfires are also used to help contain more controlled burns too, just with more head notice.

    • Re:Wrong solution (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <mashiki&gmail,com> on Tuesday July 26, 2016 @02:00AM (#52580305) Homepage

      Considering that many forests have a burn/repopulate phase that's probably one of the best solutions. Otherwise you start seeing what we have now, uncontrollable wildfires that spring up and eat decades of dead matter that have been left collecting because there haven't been fires to burn it up. There's parts of forests in western Canada where pine needles and other materials are nearly 2' deep. All that's going to take is one good strike from lightening and it'll burn out of control, and of course be increased by the number of dead/dying trees due to pine beetle infestations.

    • Yet more hardware you can buy but not own. Won't be long before a drone filming a protest gets geofenced away even though there's no aircraft excuse.

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Monday July 25, 2016 @10:37PM (#52579815) Journal

    Ohhh, that was horrible!

  • Grain of salt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Monday July 25, 2016 @10:54PM (#52579873) Homepage

    I don't trust the federal government to be telling the truth here.

    I can't find the Slashdot article, but the FAA was caught lying in front of congress about how drones interfere with other aircraft. They were taking every occurrance where a pilot says that they see a UFO, and counting that as a drone. Another example was the case where a commercial plane was damaged by something striking it, and they claimed it was a drone even though they found no evidence of it. They found their boogeyman and want to blame everything on it.

    We have a problem that government agencies can make rules without having to prove their case. And they aren't elected officials so they don't answer directly to the people.

    It could be that various government organizations see drones as a threat to government opaqueness. The FAA is going to do everything they can to limit drone use. This is where the surveillance society swings the other way - people can keep better track of the government. Whenever we see these claims about drones, take them with a grain of salt. Start asking what evidence they have that there was a drone present. Most drones are so cheap and light, that a 2mph breeze will make them uncontrollable. It strains believability that firefighting helicoptors are threatened by bits of plastic lighter than many birds. Are there really drones operating over forest fires? Until I see real evidence, a random pilot claiming "I couldn't do X because of a drone" isn't going to convince me to tighten regulations.

    How about a common sense regulation saying that anyone operating a drone over a certain weight has to be available on a particilar CB radio channel?

    • To what end? It can't be enforced, and it could lead to serious legal problems if somebody did try to enforce it.

      How would you compel an operator intent on criminal activity to comply with this regulation? One of the problems with well-meaning regulations like this is not their lack of common sense. It is, rather, their lack of enforceability.

      By definition, an operator intent on criminal conduct is not going to be deterred by any regulation prohibiting or interfering with that conduct, right? He woul

      • I would love to see the data backing up your claim that most gun owners in the United States support keeping people on the "no fly" list from owning guns. My experiences with people who own firearms tells me that they generally believe in the private ownership of firearms, and that they are against the restriction of that right by non-judicial means, especially through a mechanism as opaque as the "no fly" list. As soon as someone such as yourself uses the words "common sense" while talking about firearms
        • by fnj ( 64210 )

          The no-fly list, being deemed mentally deranged, and being deemed mentally incompetent, are all wide open doors for abusing human rights.

      • If you want to weaponize a drone and call it an exercise of Second Amendment rights, go right ahead. You do realize that there are places where you can't bring your lawfully owned guns, don't you?

        As far as criminal behavior goes, I'd suspect that we're dealing primarily with assholes rather than criminals, and assholes can often be stopped by regulations being enforced. I doubt that many criminals will benefit from chasing firefighting aircraft away.

    • by TroII ( 4484479 )

      I'm not a drone owner; I dislike them in general, and I think they're probably abused for privacy invasion on a regular basis. But I tend to agree with you and I think the government is being alarmist here.

      Similar claims were being made last year, with the government saying firefighting operations had to be curtailed because of multiple drones in the area. I remember pulling up Google Maps and doing a little armchair plotting. The fire in question had been in a remote area, something like 10 miles from any

    • Parent is on-point. Feds are using "fear" and "misunderstanding" in order to ground drones so they can continue burning ranchers out of their homesteads, bankrupting them, forcing them to free their land so it can be "reclaimed" in the name of "conservation" without being seen by the public. This, is the real reason.
    • I don't own one of the newer drone units so I can't really say this with anything to back it up. Maybe they've improved them since the days of my flying around RC heli's. . . .who knows.

      That said, a large fire is going to create an incredible amount of turbulence in the air surrounding it. Enough to give the full sized aircraft flying about a lot of issues to deal with. I would think that something as small and light as a drone would have absolute HELL flying around in those conditions if it could be do

    • I don't trust the federal government to be telling the truth here.

      Most drones are so cheap and light, that a 2mph breeze will make them uncontrollable. It strains believability that firefighting helicoptors are threatened by bits of plastic lighter than many birds. Are there really drones operating over forest fires? Until I see real evidence, a random pilot claiming "I couldn't do X because of a drone" isn't going to convince me to tighten regulations.

      How about a common sense regulation saying that anyone operating a drone over a certain weight has to be available on a particilar CB radio channel?

      The big difference in this case is that birds most likely flee immediately when faced with a fire and people are far more likely to bring their drones out to watch the carnage and firefighting attempts in the event of a fire. So you have fewer birds with the potential for more people to be flying drones in the area. I do agree that the FAA has lied about drone encounters, but they may have a legitimate concern here. When you're swooping in low over a lake to haul up a bunch of water, for instance, you do

    • Until I see real evidence, a random pilot claiming "I couldn't do X because of a drone" isn't going to convince me to tighten regulations.

      there have been 15 instances of drones interfering with firefighter operations this year, including several leading to grounded aircraft

      Yeah, best wait until a few disasters happen before taking action or something. And because most drones are cheap and light...and not likely capable of flying near a forest fire....the ones that are big and heavy probably aren't a problem either?

      Also, your common sense solution is to add another layer of complexity instead of attempting to mitigate the source or the issue?

      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        I accept your point that we should not wait until a disaster to take preventative action.

        The problem is that:
        1. The actions they are taking are not preventative. They are overreaching.
        2. They lied about their evidence.

        the agency said manufacturers could eventually use it to build drones that automatically steer away from wildfire locations.

        So the vision seems to be that, in the future, all civilian drones will be mandated to participate in a system that lets the government remotely steer them away from certain areas. That's fine and dandy for wildfires: can't argue with that! But if they succeed in mandating such technology,

    • How about a common sense regulation saying that anyone operating a drone over a certain weight has to be available on a particilar CB radio channel?

      If some people with their drone-toys were responsible adults in the first place then none of this would be happening now, but no, you have to have some people act like entitled, irresponsible, spoiled brat children who have to have their way, and fly their toys into places and situations where they clearly don't belong, but they DGAF so now we HAVE to have the government step in and regulate something that, like model aircraft, wouldn't have had to be if only they would have acted like responsible adults in

      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        What situations are you talking about? The government has not actually presented any evidence that this is happening. Most of their claims aren't even believable.

    • How about a common sense regulation saying that anyone operating a drone over a certain weight has to be available on a particilar CB radio channel?

      CB can not work well when microwave still does. Better FRS.

  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Monday July 25, 2016 @11:22PM (#52579967)

    ...just wait until geofencing is applied to self driving cars, and for political reasons. "I'm sorry dave, I can't take you to the protest zone..."

  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock&poetic,com> on Monday July 25, 2016 @11:41PM (#52580015)

    Shouldn't drones be fighting the fire? Why send humans up there? Drones have more carrying capacity per horsepower (no bulky life support systems needed) potentially better maneuverability, and don't risk lives. Yes, it's new technology and the ideal drone for that job may not exist yet- but that's the future and it should begin now.

  • by ebonum ( 830686 ) on Monday July 25, 2016 @11:58PM (#52580051)

    I'd like to hear a lot more information about how they identify these drones. Are people really standing near these extremely dangerous, fast moving fires where they could be burned alive to fly their drones? Could be. People do dumb things. Is it pilots spotting drones or people on the ground? Most drones are going to be hard to spot from a moving plane in an area with smoke, wind, fire, flying debris, etc. Most planes are going to be going over 100mph. Stall speed + some margin for error. Unexpected small objects might be hard to correctly identify at this speed.
    Do we have video or pictures of the suspect drones or only stories of people who saw one? I assume the drones are getting spectacular footage of these fires and uploading youtube. It would be nice to have links to the videos.
    If they have all these drones in the fire areas, I assume they have caught some of the drone operators. There aren't going to be hoards of non-emergency personal in the area near a fire. A guy with a transmitter is going to stick out. He'd be easier to see than a small drone. He's bigger.
    A lot of these fires are dangerous because of high winds. What where the winds of at the time the drones were spotted, and what is the upper limit at which a drone can be reasonably operated?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The firefighters BTW, won't even use a drone for surveying a fire. They insist on taking up a helicopter with a person in it from a distant helipad. They know its safer to use the drone, but they'd have to admit that a helicopter flying around is more dangerous. All those flying skills they learned, replaced by a computer in the drone that flies better than them. With consumer drones being lighter and more plastic, they could fly tens of them, scouting for trapped people, and spotting the fire's progress, i

      • by bitingduck ( 810730 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2016 @01:57AM (#52580297) Homepage

        Surveying the fires is generally done from high altitude fixed wing aircraft unless it's a small fire and one or two helos with buckets spotting and dumping on their own. Your post indicates that you don't know what the firefighting aircraft are doing-- most of them are not scouting the fire or looking for trapped people, they're carrying 500-1000 gallons (or more for the skycranes and fixed wings) of water and fire retardant and doing precision drops. I've watched a pumper truck park near my house with an inflatable pool and supply two helos with water to knock out a ~5 acre fire on a steep mountainside that would have taken hours to get handcrews to, and been impossible to get a truck to. They completely knocked out the fire with no people on the ground within a mile of it.

        As for scouting for people - if you're in a wildland fire and aren't by a road, you're pretty much SOL. The best they'd be able to do is drop water on you (which they'd do) if they see you at all, but you're not getting picked up til it burns past unless you're well away from the fire. They get people out by filling the neighborhood with fire equipment and telling people to leave. The drones in the air don't stop the firefighters on the ground, but they do stop the air support they depend on. There are 28 helos and probably a half-dozen fixed wing aircraft assigned to the Sand fire right now - they do water and fire retardant drops to support the ground crews, especially in areas that are difficult or dangerous for the hand crews to get to, and might have restricted escape routes.

    • You haven't been around a brush fire at the urban/wildland interface. It's very common for there to be fire right up close to a neighborhood that's still full of people, or just far enough and with favorable winds that they aren't forcing people to evacuate but you could easily pilot a drone from your backyard. I've got co-workers who were in their backyards while firefighters were setting backfires from their yard. So there can easily be hoards of non-emergency personnel within range of a large drone. T

    • Do we have video or pictures of the suspect drones or only stories of people who saw one?

      Knowing someone who did this yes there's plenty of evidence. Just do a youtube search and you get some wonderful and amazing amateur footage of firefighters at work complete with helicopters and planes doing dumps.

      The one person I know who did this a few times used a small lightweight plane. He was a neat 6km away from the fire, he didn't even know there was one before he took off, and when he did see it on his monitor he flew his drone straight there.

  • If a bird shaped / massed object presents a serious hazard to your aircraft, then your aircraft was never safe to begin with. Don't take me wrong, I'm all for responsible drone ownership and flying, however if you are seriously worried about the ability of a 2 lb drone to take down your aircraft, you should be much more worried about the 10lb canadian goose you are just as likely to hit.
    • Re:Birds... (Score:5, Informative)

      by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot@wor[ ]et ['f.n' in gap]> on Tuesday July 26, 2016 @01:12AM (#52580239)

      If a bird shaped / massed object presents a serious hazard to your aircraft, then your aircraft was never safe to begin with. Don't take me wrong, I'm all for responsible drone ownership and flying, however if you are seriously worried about the ability of a 2 lb drone to take down your aircraft, you should be much more worried about the 10lb canadian goose you are just as likely to hit.

      First of all, aircraft fire fighting is EXTREMELY dangerous. Whether it's a helicopter long lining a Bambi bucket, or being in a water tanker dropping water on a fire, it requires extremely skilled pilots. And this is without the distraction that a fire causes - smoke, turbulence caused by the flames (they are nothing like what you get at 30,000 feet), flying low to the ground, etc.

      Most aircraft are under 500' above the ground. You need to be extremely skillful when flying this low, and you feel the flames - the rising hot air are shoving your aircraft around, so it's already hard enough keeping blue side up. Then as you release your load, your aircraft's balance shifts and you have to compensate as well as try to fly your lines Oh yeah, did I mention it was smoky so you can't always see clearly out? And there's no map accurate enough so your only protection against flying into terrain is well, the Mk. 1 Eyeball?

      In fact, ti's so dangerous there's an aircraft always hanging around overhead - acting as air traffic control so they control and manage aircraft timing, spacing and noting where to attack the fire as well as keeping a general eye on everything in cas something flares up. Everyone is under control in the immediate area.

      The problem with a drone is it's not under positive control - who knows where the operator may fly. It's not just damaging the aircraft, but also distracting the pilots who are just trying to keep things under control. If it lands in an engine and takes it out, that aircraft and its crew may land right in the middle of the flames (there's no where to go at 500' AGL). Or it might break through the windshield and seriously distract the pilots.

      Perhaps a good way to make conditions relatable to IT workers is imagine trying to write code in the middle of a call center. You have to write your code, but phones are ringing off the hook, people are chatting loudly, and then some idiot starts banging on your keyboard.

      It's already a difficult and risky working environment. Drones simply add a risk element that could turn a rescuer into a victim, and that's the last thing anyone needs. It's why SAR often suspend activity when it gets too dangerous, too - because the last thing in the world you want is to make things worse and increase the number of people needing rescue.

      Oh, and a crash during a wildfire can spawn more wildfires.

      • Oh, and a crash during a wildfire can spawn more wildfires.

        Well, yeah. Fight fire with fire!

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        You need to be extremely skillful when flying this low, and you feel the flames - the rising hot air are shoving your aircraft around, so it's already hard enough keeping blue side up. Then as you release your load, your aircraft's balance shifts and you have to compensate as well as try to fly your lines Oh yeah, did I mention it was smoky so you can't always see clearly out?

        Is "aircraft" some kind of euphemism?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Aves tend to not stick around when the forest is on fire, durrr. Go back to the Daily Mail, dumbass.

    • Glad to know that there are no drones that weigh over two pounds. I was also completely unaware that drones were made of bones, feathers and bird meat. No difference really.

      So ingesting a bird into a jet engine is identical to a mechanical object. Something that by design uses high strength materials like carbon fiber and possibly metals like aluminum or titanium. So you got the references to the FAA verified tests that equate bird engine ingestion to an equivalent amount of flying structure? Those test ha

    • What's your point? If they could legislate birds out of the way of fire fighting planes, they would, but they can't.

      Seems a bit like defending your right to poop on the street by pointing out that birds do it all the time without being arrested, officer.

    • Drones like the S1000 from DJI are 4kg body weight with max TOW of 11kg. That's like being hit by two candian geese. Not all of the drones out there are the 2 pound toys and it's the big ones that are the risks.

    • Spoken like someone who considers ground level to be up.

  • The article is light on details and seems to be the work of a confused reporter. Software alone is not going to achieve what is described. This is on the same level of stupidity as claiming that an Internet kill switch would be a simple software implementation or that police could deploy software to stop target cars to avoid the need to chase...

    Geofencing is built into the firmware of several the flight controllers used in "drones" and has been in use for several years. It can be either user settable or

    • It's not build into the Naze, CC3D, SP Racing F3 or KISS flight controllers. The flight controllers that at in the vast majority of flying RC aircraft. Not to mention none of those require GPS.

  • Feds should organize development of an universal anti collision system, - for drones, planes, trains, ships, etc. This is the Feds' size job. As soon as a manned aircraft is approaching an area an RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) operator gets a warning message on a screen.

    If a plane and RPAS are close then an autopilots should negotiate automatically and change altitudes respectively. Certainly a manned aircraft has got a priority. There is enough space in 3D world, it is not like at the 2D road
    • And most drones don't have the ability to report those numbers you want. My drones could tell you which way they were facing relative to north, and a rough altitude. They could not tell you what direction they were flying in (they don't have to fly forwards), their speed, or their position.

      Size wise mine are all tiny. Under 500g with battery. But there is absolutely nothing stopping me from using the exact save systems on a 50kg drone if I wanted.

  • This system simply cannot work. How are you meant to geofence something that has no autonomous control systems and no gps? None of my quads have GPS, autopilot, pathing or anything else that could be used to control them.

    That doesn't stop my quads having an aerodynamic ceiling of 3000+ meters or being able to do in excess of 100kph.

    I'm not going to fly over a wild fire. I'd be too upset if one of my quads fell into it. But if someone built a quad like mine there isn't anything anyone could do to stop it

  • by joneil ( 677771 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2016 @06:40AM (#52580901)

    Here in Canada, we have one law, coast to coast. No aircraft, I repeat, NO AIRCRAFT of any type shall fly withing 5 nautical miles of any forest fire. The only exception are those aircraft that are directly involved with the fire control / fire fighting. In that category, yes, drones here in Canada have been involved in the use of fighting fires. Mostly mapping and monitoring the spread of the fire, away from the water bombers.

    However, back to the original point, near a forest fire - NOTHING flies. No drones, no CF-18 fighter aircraft, no passenger jets, not even Air Fore One. Nada. Zilcho. It is very, very clear. However, in the USA, your laws and regulations are clear as mud. :(

    I was talking last year to some USDA officials at the UAV show in Las Vegas, and they lamented the fact that there is no equivalent law in the USA. It is often decided state by state, and this leads to much confusion. If you Americans had the same law we had here in Canada, then the moment any drone took off, any of your officials - could be local police, park rangers, FBI - anyone could step in and say "stop now."

    One more thing, in case you don't know, you really do not want to be withing 5 nm of any forest fire to begin with. Flying or on the ground. Ever hear the old phrase "moves like wildfire?" Well, it's true, and people die. Smoke inhalation, getting lost, somebody has a propane tank in thier back yard that explodes and takes you out - the list of things that can and do go wrong is miles long. Just don't do it unless you have a really good reason to be there.

  • Drones, aka radio controlled aircraft, communicate with the operator over radio waves. Those signals carry commands, video, and other stuff. My understanding is that these are point-to-point communications.

    How then does "software" get in the middle of this point-to-point communication and inform the pilot to go away? Are they setting up hardware with antennas & software that transmits on some common frequency & protocol that drones use?

    • by jasenj1 ( 575309 )

      (Replying to my own question.)

      The k2radio article describes how this works. The drone control app on iOS talks to a remote server for mapping info. The Feds feed geofence info into the control app servers and that gets delivered to the pilots & their drones.

      "AirMap and Skyward now obtain wildfire information directly from Interiorâ(TM)s Integrated Reporting Wildland-Fire Information (IRWIN) program, and immediately transmit it to drone pilots through AirMapâ(TM)s iOS and web apps, AirMapâ

      • That would be a huge assumption. The DJI Phantoms and Inspires might work like that, and while they are very popular, they don't make up anything like a majority of drones out there.

        While the DJI products are great there is nothing preventing you from building a more capable drone from scratch for less money. It won't have the nice white case of the DJIs, but it will be faster, lighter and have a longer flight time if you scratch build.

        If you scratch build then you aren't going to be running DJI software

  • by Ogive17 ( 691899 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2016 @08:21AM (#52581245)
    Don't build a "fence" to keep the curious drones away, build a vacuum that sucks them into the fire. That's a much better lesson for nosey drone operators.
  • This blanket restriction kills a use-case for UAVs in firefighting. That happens to be fire behavior observation. Having field observers watching the progress of the fire from a nearby and safe location is essential for the safety of the firefighters and anyone else who might be in the path. Using a UAV and perhaps a tethered UAV with it's extended air time, is very useful for this. Even a tethered unit could be placed 150 feet off the ground to give the observers a better view. But if the manufacturer

  • Sounds good to me, and I have quadcopters. BTW: what about my quads that don't have GPS?

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