Feds to deploy anti-drone software near wildfires

Feds to deploy anti-drone software near wildfires

Federal officials are launching a new “geofencing” program to alert drone pilots when they’re flying too close to wildfire prevention operations.

The Department of Interior said Monday it would deploy software warnings to pilots when their drones pose a risk to the aircraft used by emergency responders fighting wildfires.

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The agency said there have been 15 instances of drones interfering with firefighter operations this year, including several leading to grounded aircraft. Drone-related incidents doubled between 2014 and 2015, the agency said. 

“No responsible drone operator wants to endanger the lives of the men and women who work to protect them and we believe this program, which uses the global positioning system to create a virtual barrier, will move us one step closer to eliminating this problem for wildfire managers,” Mark Bathrick, the director of the Interior Department’s Office of Aviation Service, said in a statement.

Officials built the new warning system with the drone industry, and the agency said manufacturers could eventually use it to build drones that automatically steer away from wildfire locations. 

The program is in its pilot phase, the agency said; officials hope to have a full public release in time for next year’s wildfire season.

Regulators have long grappled with how to prevent drones from flying near sensitive government installations or public facilities like prisons or power plants.

The Interior Department and the Federal Aviation Administration have launched a public awareness campaign to discourage drone use near wildfires and are implementing other notification systems and establishing potential penalties for pilots, the agency said.