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Insitu deploys a UAS over a Washington State wildfire.
Insitu deploys a UAS over a Washington State wildfire.

Insitu, the Boeing subsidiary that makes unmanned aircraft systems, is helping emergency responders in Washington State as they work to tame wildfires that have spread across the Pacific Northwest, destroying and threatening thousands of homes.

The company recently flew its ScanEagle surveillance drone over the Paradise Fire in Washington’s Olympic National Park, according to a news release. It was equipped with specialized cameras to pinpoint the fire’s perimeter and identify areas of intense heat. It also helped direct traditional helicopters where to drop water.

A video the company released shows the drone hovering far above other emergency aircraft, where it can stay for hours and beam down valuable information. The drone flew six operations, collecting more than 37 hours of infrared video.

Infrared image of a Washington State wildfire captured by an Insitu UAS.
Infrared image of a Washington State wildfire captured by an Insitu UAS.

This comes as the latest sign of the ways drones could be used to fundamentally change the way we do things, from delivering packages in 30 minutes to saving lives in search and rescue missions.

The U.S. government has been slowly warming up to the technology, but still lags behind other countries in terms of letting companies — like Insitu — use their equipment to its full potential.

While firefighters did use the data Insitu recently collected, the company is calling the mission a “demonstration.” There are several fires still burning across the region, and the drones were only deployed in one controlled environment. Elsewhere, fire officials even said they didn’t want the drones around, according to a report from the Associated Press.

But Mark Bathrick, Director of the Office of Aviation Services for the U.S. Department of the Interior, said in a news release that this was really more about showing what unmanned aircrafts can do.

“This and other planned unmanned aircraft systems demonstrations will serve to guide our policies, procedures and requirements for the safe, phased integration of UAS in support of wildfire management,” he said. “These demonstrations are part of a larger interagency strategy aimed at employing UAS to provide firefighters on the ground with time-sensitive information that will give them the highest level of situational awareness and support possible.”

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