Mrinal Kumar

“During a wildfire, drones are able to provide real-time information from above the ground that aids in decision-making about what needs to happen next, where suppression efforts might be most urgently needed, and who needs to evacuate.”

Dr. Mrinal Kumar

This Week’s Key Question

“Can Drones Provide Actional Insight into How Wildfires Spread?”

This Week’s Guests

Dr, Kumar is an associate professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, where he founded the Laboratory for Autonomy in Data-Driven and Complex Systems. Mrinal received a Ph.D. in 2009 from Texas A&M University and a Bachelor’s degree in 2004 from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, both in aerospace engineering. During 2010-16, he served as an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at University of Florida. In 2016, Dr. Kumar’s group moved to The Ohio State University.

What We Learn

Under Mrinal’s direction, Researchers are using autonomous drones to help prevent and mitigate wildfires.  As witnessed by the ongoing blazes across the U.S., wildfires are difficult to predict and fight. Flames can travel up to 14 mph in dry grass and spread in unexpected directions. 

In 2021, the Lab received a $1.4 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to de velop an aerial robotic system.  The “Integration of Autonomous UAS in Wildland Fire Management” project develops real-time situational awareness using drones to monitor the intensity and spread of wildfires. The results should help firefighting experts understand how topographic, atmospheric and forest fuel factors influence fire intensity and rate of spread through real-time fire behavior models.  Mrinal’s team will shadow the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ prescribed burn team into the southern state forests of Ohio, led by Greg Guess at the Division of Forestry. Prescribed burns are typically conducted late in the fall or early spring when the fuel and weather conditions are conducive to a controlled burn. The drones will undergo rigorous testing and validation, leading up to fully autonomous mission design and deployment in these prescribed burns and eventually wildfires.

In this edition of the Drone Radio Show, Dr. Kumar talks about the National Science Foundation grand and the university’s research into drones and wildfires. 

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