California has experienced its worst year of fire on record. According to Digital Trends, to better combat the wildfires this year, the federal government deployed a fleet of drones to conduct backburn operations by releasing miniature fireballs.
Containing fires by setting prescribed burns, called backburns, is one method firefighters can control wildfires because it deprives fires of combustible material.
Helicopters equipped with flamethrowers are generally used for backburning operations. But a new process via an unmanned aerial system that releases "dragon eggs" has revolutionized the process this fire season.
Drone Amplified's IGNIS System Dropping Combustible Dragon Eggs
"The Dragon Eggs are a brand name for a specific type of what is more generally known as an ignition sphere," Carrick Detweiler, CEO of Drone Amplified, told Digital Trends.
"The ignition spheres have been used for decades by manned helicopters to perform prescribed burns and backburns on wildfires. One of the main ways to contain wildfires is to use backburns to remove the fuels — [such as] dead wood — in advance of the main wildfire. This then allows firefighters to contain and put out the wildfire," Detweiler said.
The dragon eggs are spheres that contain potassium permanganate and can explode into flames when dropped.
"Our system, called IGNIS, carries 400 ignition spheres and is attached to a drone.
"When commanded by the operator, IGNIS punctures and injects the ignition sphere with glycol. This starts a chemical reaction that will cause the ignition sphere to ignite 30 to 60 seconds later. IGNIS contains onboard sensing and intelligence to safely and quickly inject the spheres at up to 120 per minute. This allows firefighters to precisely and safely start controlled burns while staying out of harm's way," he said.
IGNIS is controlled by artificial intelligence that is being fed data about its surrounding through sensors embedded on the drone. This allows the drone to drop firebombs without putting firefighters in even more danger.
Backburn Operation With Dragon Egg Drop On Predefined Flight Route
Digital Trends said "hundreds of thousands of the ignition spheres" have been dropped this year to contain fires in California, Colorado, Oregon, and elsewhere in 2020. This has saved the USDA more than $14,000 per day, compared with using helicopters to perform the same job.
Watch: Dragon Eggs Dropped In Colorado