New firefighting drone makes debut at San Diego conference

Qube created by company AeroVironment

SAN DIEGO - It weighs only a few pounds, but it could be the key to preventing a small brush fire from turning into a larger one.

A high-flying firefighting tool called the Qube is making its debut at the Firehouse World conference in San Diego.  

"We absolutely believe this could be a difference maker," said Kristen Helsel, director of business development at AeroVironment.

The Qube, a 5-pound, 4-rotor drone, is made by AeroVironment, which owns a big share of the military drone market.

Helsel said the biggest edge of the new drone is "during an urban fire or wild fire, they can have this out of their car or truck in five minutes and up to do a quick assessment."

10News obtained video shot by one of the company's drones of a controlled burn, during a recent test done with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Quickly, the drone's thermal cameras can zero in on hot spots, observe how the fire is behaving and see where the fire is moving.

"At the very start of something like that is when we have the most ability to stop it," said Helsel.

A live feed of the fire can be viewed remotely by many eyes, which will help in decision-making.            

In all, the Qube system, including the controller, costs about $50,000.

Price is one obstacle for fire agencies, though Helsel points out a Qube flight costs much less than a helicopter flight.

Also, amid a debate on drones and privacy, anyone interested in using drones must apply for federal approval.

At the convention, 10News was told interest from fire agencies was high.

10News talked to officials at several local fire agencies who said the drones are something they'll be looking at closely.

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