The MODular Aerial Platform (MODAP) is a cost-efficient, purpose-driven, and automated drone system that expedites the post-fire search-and-rescue process.

With low-cost materials and artificial intelligence techniques, we prototyped, trained, and developed a device framework that would serve as our small contribution in fighting an active wildfire. Using infrared image data trained with YOLO (developed for self-driving car), a search-and-rescue network is deployed on the aircraft. A low-powered LTE and “Ham Radio” setup is equipped with the device, such that the plane would be capable to adaptively transmit different levels of signal based on the environment’s parameters. The aircraft itself is fix-winged, battery powered, and contains a disposable foam and plastic construction.

The drone system reduces the workload of agencies during an active incident — leaving them focused on the top-priority tasks that needs their pressing attention. Each incident response agent could deploy a group of drones, which then automates the process of search by using the on-board computer. When humans are located, the system notifies an agent. Through this, the agent does not have to be constantly and actively attentive through what could perhaps be miles of fruitless footage.

Due to our rapidly changing climate, fires are becoming stronger and more frequent, yet due to the variability of the time and location of a given epidemic, it could be difficult to always have firefighters constantly at the ready (or even capable of) to perform a manual rescue mission. In addition, the automated system allows for more precise human discovery.

What inspired you (or your team)?

There is no denying that our planet is changing. This change — although it may be imperceptible during each day — such changes is having dramatic effects. Having spent my formative years in Northern California, I saw the worsening of the California Wildfires plague my extended family and friends. It is no longer out of the norm to assume that school may be cancelled for perhaps one or two days in late October or November due to the worsening Air Quality Index.

Perhaps more disturbing than such information is the views of innocent people, drenched among the dancing flames, posting what could be their final wishes on Social Media. This made my team and I wonder — what direct influence could we serve to help these individuals?

The mission of organisations like Calfire is to prevent, control, and dispatch support during active fire incidents. Especially during an incident, they could be dangerously understaffed — with the command dispatch having to not only fight the active fire, but provide medical, search-and-rescue, and preparatory mission support. This inspired us to create the MODAP platform: a system that attempts to expedite this process.

I firmly believe that our generation could effect great change. I have always been inspired by the aerospace industry. Using and combining our youthful energy and powerful knowledge, I believe that we — both as a team and as an era of innovators — could, if we put our minds to it, create life-saving and life-changing innovations in this field.