NASA Ikhana in action  (Source: NASA)
Technology helps fight the wild fires in SoCal

Mass media remains fixated on the wild fires that unfortunately forced thousands of people to flee from their homes in southern California.  Tom Corelis and Steve Kovsky recently wrote a couple of blogs that discuss technology and its influence during this horrible time, and today I want to discuss how NASA used its technology to help combat the fires.

NASA earlier in the week launched the Ikhana drone from Edwards Air Force Base, a major air base on the border of Los Angeles County and Kern County.  The Ikhana is a modified version of the U.S. Air Force's Predator B drone that  has been customized specifically for civil science and research missions - or natural disaster emergencies.

Ikhana was flown more than 20,000 feet above San Diego County, offering real-time photographs of the fires and their movement, which allowed firefighters to properly coordinate how to stop the fires.  Monitoring the progress made by fires typically is done by helicopter, but drones are unmanned and can operate for much longer times - and can fly in the strong winds and hazy sky.

"The need to collect data over day-night time cycles and over long distances in remote areas drives the need for a long-duration unmanned aircraft," said Brent Cobleigh, NASA Dryden's project manager for Ikhana.  "Piloted aircraft are limited by crew duty requirements that generally restrict science flights to 10 hours or less. Unmanned aircraft are also more suitable for remote missions spanning open oceans or the polar regions where the lack of nearby emergency landing locations increases the risk for piloted missions."

NASA researchers continue to put a large amount of research into unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology for a number of different reasons, including the fact they can be operated in situations not ideal for manned missions.

UAVs are becoming popular among hobbyists who have the right combination of brains and extra money to create something that is able to fly safely.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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