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Google is planning to test drones for fighting fires

Google is already testing drone delivery services in various places around the world via its Wing unit, but now the company is considering using the same technology for fighting fires.

The Google Research Climate and Energy Group — also known as Google Research and separate to Wing — recently asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to test a drone “at a confined private property in Firebaugh, California,” Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, February 3.

Made by Florida-based firm Homeland Surveillance & Electronics (HSE), which specializes in drones for agricultural use, the flying machine that Google is seeking permission to use weighs between 55 and 98.8 pounds and would be used for “testing firefighting and monitoring operations with first-person-view technology,” according to the document submitted to the FAA.

Specific details regarding Google’s plans for firefighting drones are currently scant, but considering that some of HSE’s machines are already used for crop spraying, it’s easy to imagine one of its devices being modified to eject water.

An increasing number of fire departments around the world are making use of drones, though in most cases they’re deployed to monitor ongoing fires to provide firefighters with real-time data so they can tackle a blaze in the safest and most efficient way possible.

But with the technology continuing to develop, some fire departments are already testing water-spraying drones that can quickly reach elevated places or hard-to-access locations. In Chongqing, China, for example, firefighters last year conducted a drill (pictured below) using several pilot-controlled quadcopters, with water fired from a high-pressure hose connected to a tank on the ground.

Firefighters in China testing water-spraying drones last year. iChongqing

Drone technology has advanced enormously in recent years, with an increasing number of companies offering an array of services that include everything from moviemaking and mapping to industrial inspections and even wind turbine cleaning.

Strict regulations are currently the biggest barrier to greater drone deployment, with the FAA constantly assessing the safety of related technologies as they hit the market. Google is now waiting to see if the agency gives it the green light to test out its own drone-based system for firefighting operations.

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Trevor Mogg
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