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Watch an unmanned helicopter put out fires with help from a drone

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
November 19, 2014
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Fighting wildfires is sometimes a daunting prospect with manned aircraft; pilots can't always fly around the clock or cover every patch of land. They won't have to if Lockheed Martin's efforts pan out. It recently demonstrated a tweaked version of its unmanned K-MAX helicopter that can work in tandem with a quadrotor drone, Indago, to stamp out fires with relatively little human intervention. As you'll see in the clip below, Indago serves as a forward scout that marks any hotspots. After that, K-MAX swoops in with a bucket to douse the flames. It fetches more water on its own, too.

People do need to oversee some of the process, but the mostly hands-off approach still lets K-MAX extinguish blazes with the kind of efficiency you don't always get from regular aircraft -- in the demo, it dumped 24,000 pounds of water in an hour. It can also change roles if there's a need to drop off supplies or rescue survivors. Eventually, Lockheed hopes that this one-two robotic combo will take over from humans when they either aren't available to fight fires or would face too many risks.

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