Fire fighting teams battling devastating wildfires sweeping across Southern California will now have their own ''eye-in-the-sky'' to provide urgently needed data through a drone''s infrared sensors. The drone is called the Ikhana, which means "intelligent" in the Native-American Choctaw language.
The data picked up by the drone will reach the fire fighters on the ground through a satellite link-up. Technicians at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert will control the Ikhana. The Ikhana is a version of the Predator drones used by the US defence services on their missions abroad.
The advantage that Ikhana brings to the battle is its endurance, its ability to stay aloft for up to 20 hours. Also, its infrared sensors can penetrate smoke and relay crucial data about the fire to the ground - in terms of size, intensity and its direction, which can prove critical for fire fighting crews on the ground. According to US Forest Service officials the Ikhana''s data allows "daily maps" to be drawn up for the day''s battle plan.
Unlike satellites, which too provide image-based information, drones are more useful in that they provide real time information. Satellites pass by overhead twice a day and so their information is of limited use.