Flamethrower Drones? It’s About Time!

China adopts a somewhat unconventional approach to waste management

Seriously, a flamethrower on a drone? What could go wrong?

Earlier this month spectacular footage emerged of workers in Xiangyang, China using a drone to burn away debris from overhead power lines. The drone appears to be a modified DJI-S1000+ octocopter. A strapped-on plastic jerry can and boom can clearly be seen in the footage:

While it looks dramatic, this technique might actually be an improvement over previous methods. Maintenance workers removing debris by hand risk falls or electrocution during hazardous climbs. Counter-intuitively, spraying fire at power lines may be the less risky option.

The vast majority of overhead power lines are metallic bundles of aluminium and steel. Most of them aren’t insulated as this is cost-prohibitive. Given the high melting point of these metals, they could likely handle a quick burst of flame without sustaining damage.

On the downside, it’s easy to envisage more sinister applications for remotely-controlled flame-spouting aerial vehicles. Clearly it’s unwise to stimulate the thinking of potential terrorists by listing hypothetical targets. Suffice to say that there’s enough infrastructure out there where naked flames would be highly undesirable. Trying to defend these areas from home-built threats from the air is becoming a growing security headache.

To assuage these fears, a whole new slew of counter-drone technologies has emerged. A pestilential drone may soon encounter systems that can detect, jam, fry, or capture it well before it can complete its quest for flamethrower-spewing vengeance…

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