CITRIS Seed Award project uses drones to detect wildfires

Black hybrid drone designed by Zhaodan Kong's team is displayed on a white table in the foreground. Researcher Zhaodan Kong is standing in the background.
Photo courtesy of UC Davis

A 2021 Seed Award project led by UC Davis researcher Zhaodan Kong aims to develop uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) to mitigate California wildfires at the wildland-urban interface (WUI). 

Smoke from WUI fires contains toxic chemical substances from the burning of synthetic compounds, making these fires especially dangerous. By employing swarms of drones to measure a range of toxic gases and aerosols in WUI plumes, this project will provide more accurate, real-time data on air toxics from WUI fires to further understand their impact on human health. 

In the long term, Kong plans to harness the potential of automated technology to take wildfire management from passive response to proactive prevention. Along with the hybrid aircraft to monitor hazardous sites, his team is creating an integrated system of ground sensors and UAVs to predict and detect wildfires before human intervention is necessary. 

“It has to be satellites, watchtowers, UAVs, manned aircraft, ground sensors, all the mechanisms working together in order to have a system to predict and detect wildfires,” said Kong. 

Co-investigators on the Seed Award included Anthony Wexler and Thomas Young at UC Davis and Deborah Bennett at UC Davis Health.