Kamloops drone company expands across Canada

Local company awarded for their help during the past wildfire seasons in B.C.

While the B.C. government plans to toughen up the laws to prohibit the operation of drones near wildfires, Hummingbird Drones company was awarded for their unmanned aerial vehicles.

Roberts Atwood and Richard Sullivan graduated from TRU in 2014. They were enrolled in a science natural resources course and they were working as wildlife firefighters. It was their mutual interest in science and volunteer firefighting that brought them together to start the Hummingbird drone company.

Later, after working to extinguish wildfires that had taken over British Columbia, they came up with the idea to change how wildfires are handled globally. They won the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Start-Up Canada in 2014.

Their idea is creative as for centuries wildfires were fought using extensive human resources and helicopters. So, this technique helps to ease the process, and it makes it safer for humans when an extensive fire happens.

“We developed a software program years ago to help us analyze infrared data in a timely matter,” said Atwood. Additionally, “Being so close to the fires when flying allows us to see upfront what kind of obstacles there are,” says Atwood. “It gives us a good idea of how we can continue to improve our technology.”

They designed an infrared scanning technology to swiftly and accurately process gigabytes of raw footage filmed by drones. They also envisioned and prototyped a crowdsourced platform where anyone can assist in detecting nascent wildfires, helping to snuff them out before the onset of irreversible damage. The only thing left was to let the world know about their breakthrough.

The drones provide a variety of services for those fighting wildfires, from finding hotspots through the use of infrared cameras to creating daily fireline maps to aid the management of fire. And when the sun rises, Hummingbird would have collected the data and sorted through mountains of information which was pulled, to separate relevant needles from the haystack.

In August 2014, Transport Canada released a document detailing the knowledge requirements for pilots of UAVs under 25 kilograms (55 pounds), and these form the basis for Hummingbird’s pilot training program.

The requirements include knowledge of items including the Canadian Aviation Regulations, general operating and flight rules, navigation and meteorology. Once in the field, Transport Canada requires at least two people to operate a UAV–a pilot and a visual observer–and the UAV must be operated within line of sight.

The company has several Special Flight Operations Certificates from the regulator to allow its various operations, with the most notable one which allows it to fly over a fire at night.