Finding forest fires when they're big is relatively easy — you can see them from space. Or, y'know, just follow the burning smell. But if firefighters can identify a burn when it's just started, it's obviously far easier to nip in the bud. Sounds like a job for our old friend Mr Drone.

The technology NASA are going to use is nothing groundbreaking — a UAV with a six-foot wingspan, flying low and slow (like, 40mph slow) can use an infrared camera to scan forests, spotting for any big fire in the making. It makes a ton of sense: firefighters already use spotter planes on aerial patrols to hunt for fires, but UAVs can do exactly the same job, but orders of magnitude cheaper (and for far longer).

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At the moment, the Fish and Wildlife service is trialling the NASA drones to patrol forests after thunderstorms, but in theory, the price could fall low enough that a fleet of UAVs could stay on 24 hour patrol over high-risk areas, with computers monitoring the infrared video feed. Although that would undoubtedly make firefighters' lives easier, telling people that a fleet of constantly-watching, all-seing drones is just there for your own safety might not go down all that well. [Defence Talk]