News: Robotics program flies in to help with wildfires
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CAMP GUERNSEY JOINT TRAINING CENTER, Wyo. - A request to assist with firefighting efforts here prompted the Joint Training and Experimentation Center to prepare an unmanned aerial vehicle for reconnaissance missions for the Sawmill Canyon Fire.
JTEC, which experiments with, tests and develops unmanned vehicles, is a partner with the Wyoming National Guard, the University of Wyoming and the Department of Defense’s Joint Ground Robotics Enterprise.
John Offe, senior electronic technician for JTEC, said the initial request for assistance with the fire came from the fire’s incident commander. The request was directed to the JTEC’s aerial reconnaissance capabilities, including forward-looking infrared cameras, video, still photos and night flying.
Offe said the JTEC team began preparing the T-16 aircraft for use at the more than 14,000 acre fire, but firefighters were too efficient, containing the blaze before they could get airborne.
“We’re just doing some prep work and in case this situation comes up again, we’ll be able to support the National Guard in any way we can,” he said.
“That’s why you see us doing what we’re doing, which is shaking the cobwebs off this system,” said Travis Bruegger, JTEC’s senior engineer. “We would love to come up and be deployed and get our eyes on the fire.”
Bruegger and Offe explained the T-16 project tests different visual reconnaissance packages, including real-time 3-D modeling, and a radio communications repeater, which could be vital in identifying hotspots and other areas of importance during an emergency. However, the program was placed in reserve to focus on other projects.
The request by the Sawmill Canyon Fire incident commander revitalized the T-16 project.
“This fire has been good for us, in a way,” Offe said.
While JTEC’s aircraft offer many benefits, like operating at a third of the cost of a manned aircraft, and flying when manned aircraft cannot, there are limitations. Offe said the two biggest limiting conditions are a requirement for restricted air space and maintaining operations inside of their Department of Defense contracts.
“It’s not a service contract, we don’t have a contract in place where we can go out and do this kind of work for them,” Offe said. “We would love to. That’s our ultimate goal, which is to provide a system like this to somebody, be it game and fish, fire, homeland security, whoever.”
The Sawmill Canyon Fire, which originated on and primarily stayed within the boundaries of the camp, fell within the confines of both conditions.
“It’s a two-way partnership on this,” Offe said of the relationship with the camp. “It brings what we like to call a clearing house of technology to Camp Guernsey.” It also provides the training space and conditions to facilitate the research and development JTEC’s mission is based on, he said.