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School of Environment and Natural Resources


With NSF Investment Team to Study Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems to Monitor and Predict Wildland Fire Behavior in Eastern Forests

Sep. 7, 2021
Forest burn.

School of Environment and Natural Resources faculty member Roger Williams is a Co-Principal Investigator on a newly funded $872,967 National Science Foundation (NSF) National Robotics Initiative grant to explore the integration of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) into prescribed wildland burn projects.

Roger Williams is an associate professor of forest ecosystem analysis and management in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

The purpose of the investment is to understand how topographic, atmospheric and forest fuel factors in temperate hardwood forests influence fire intensity and rate of spread through real-time data activation in fire behavior models.

The multi-disciplinary research team includes Associate Professor Mrinal Kumar in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from The Ohio State University and Associate Professor Amit Sanyal in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Syracuse University. The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is now the fastest-growing land use in the United States. Future fire probability forecasting shows dramatic increases in probability of catastrophic fire in parts of the Eastern United States due to climate change, combined with rapidly increasing WUI. More attention is needed to understand the factors of fire behavior and spread in Eastern forests.

Experts from the areas of forest management and ecology, uncertainty quantification, sensor fusion and data-driven modeling and control will collaborate to deploy autonomous aerial robotic systems in unstructured, uncertain, and hazardous fire environments. In the long term, this work will aid in the management of the wildland-urban interface, monitoring and suppression activities of unplanned wildfires as well as other hazardous phenomena. Multi-disciplinary partnerships in research and education will accentuate the right context for autonomous UAS, namely, taking humans out of missions that involve dangerous and repetitive actions. Research activities will strengthen and diversify stakeholder involvement, including the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, firefighting communities, and K-12 education.