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Alberta Turning to Drones in Wake of Fort McMurray

If you have turned on the news anytime this past week, you have likely seen that the fire raging in Fort McMurray is gearing up to be one of the worst natural disasters that our country has ever seen.

As heavy winds continue to press the blaze on throughout Alberta — resulting in the shut down of a major oil sands project in the province — firefighters have considered more unconventional, creative solutions to suppress the blaze. One of these methods is an innovation that is currently the talk of the tech world: drones.

According to Reuters reports, Alberta’s government has contracted Elevated Robotic Services. While this company typically deploys drones for mining companies, in this case, the government hopes they can work with firefighters to help figure out the cause of the ongoing fire.

But how can drones help in this situation? The company’s technology is able to provide a clear picture of the situation on the ground from afar — not unlike Google Maps. So, from their position in the air, the drones are able to take images to capture what’s happening on the ground, with the goal of identifying the fire’s ground-zero location (to within a 30-foot radius). This information could be used to help investigators and other authorities who are working on the ground.With the knowledge provided by drones, they could physically visit the cause of the fire themselves, and deal with it directly.

Yet while one province is actively turning to drones to put out a fire, another is warning people to avoid them altogether. While British Columbia is no stranger to its own share of wildfires, officials there have recently heard that unmanned aerial vehicles have been spotted near wildfires, such as near the Beatton Airport Road fire, which is located approximately 45 kilometers north of Fort St. John.

The spotting of “unmanned aerial vehicles” presents a problem because if a drone is unauthorized, authorities do not know about it — and it can impede on the province’s firefighting efforts.So not only can drones flying near wildfires be extremely unsafe, they can also cost the province money. For example, last year, an unauthorized drone flew around the Testalinden Creek fire in British Columbia — and ended up grounding eight helicopters and five planes for over three hours.

Currently, it is against federal law to fly drones near wildfires — making the consideration of drones in Fort McMurray even more surprising. Those who break this law can be forced to pay a fine of up to $25,000 and 18 months in jail.

Despite the ongoing Fort McMurray fire and controversy over where drones can and should be used, it’s safe to say that it’s best to use Henry’s drones far away from the site of any wildfires. The Parrot Bebop Drone, for example, has a 14 MP Fisheye Camera that can be used to shoot videos and pictures from an impressive aerial viewpoint. While maybe not quite from an aerial perspective, Henry’s digital cameras can also be used to capture images from impressive distances.