Tim Wilson

An experienced project manager and training specialist with a 30 year career spanning financial services, systems integration, telco and IT, Tim has a reputation for successfully executing large, complex training and change programs.

February 7, 2018

Autonomous Flying Firefighters

At 460degrees the experts we enable strive to look at the world from new angles and generate innovative solutions. One such conceptual solution has been developed by Tim Wilson, Change and Training Management Champion and innovation project expert.

Tim’s concept focuses on how to fight large scale fires in remote areas using Autonomous Flying Robots with Integrated Swarm AI – an idea developed in response to the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009.


Flames roar through Bunyip Ridge, Victoria AUS. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/


During the Black Saturday bushfires 173 people lost their lives, 414 were injured and 7,562 people were displaced, in addition to approximately $4 Billion in property damages.

Exhausting work meant emergency workers were pushed to their limits. Snap decision-making became difficult. This is where automating the decisions made could help to alleviate pressure and improve response time.

From Tim’s perspective, a solution comes from Autonomous Flying Robots – either through retrofitting an existing platform, or designing a specific solution from the ground up.

An existing platform for instance might be the Erickson Air-crane helicopter – automating it, adding the right sensory and networking equipment, and then allowing it to be run by an AI.



Alternatively, communities and organisations could design and build robots with Swarm AI in order to fit desired specifications. These robotic firefighters would be utilised in areas that are inaccessible or too dangerous for human firefighters, in addition to filling the role of traditional water-bomber aircraft.

The term Swarm Intelligence AI comes from observing nature – mimicking the way birds and insects share information in order to work together. Similarly, all sensory information is shared due to the decentralised network of the Swarm AI, and is then used to create the best possible solution to a problem.

Using swarm AI means that not only do all the systems share their information and make split second decisions as a group, but if one of the networked AI leaves the group the rest can keep working to create a solution.



Applications for these drones wouldn’t stop at firefighting either. Drones are already being used for search and rescue operations all over the world, and some of those even have a degree of autonomous programming. However, the problem with current drones is their lack of capacity, meaning that once they have located someone in need of help they aren’t able to perform a rescue by themselves.

Take for example the disaster that was hurricane Harvey in the US, where fleets of drones were deployed to the disaster area by a range of different organisations.

These drones helped with everything from humanitarian aid through to searching for missing people and surveying the area for emergency services. They even followed up on insurance claims!

Drones have also been used to deliver humanitarian aid in areas that are largely inaccessible to other forms of transport. While these drones can be crucial in delivering small amounts of food and medicine, their capacity is limited. A large enough drone could deliver all the equipment a doctor would need to perform any emergency task required, as well as the doctor themselves!

Whilst Tim’s solution may seem ambitious, brilliant ideas are quite often perceived as such from the beginning.  If the right set of industry partners came together with a common goal, to revolutionise the way we respond to disaster as a global community, this just may be the future.