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June 5, 2019 12:27 pm

Israeli Startup Develops Firefighting Drone to Combat Gaza Incendiary Balloons

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

A log burns after a fire on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, May 15, 2019. Reuters / Amir Cohen.

After more than a year of fires in southern Israel ignited by incendiary balloons launched from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, an Israeli startup is offering an innovative solution.

The arson terror began in tandem with the so-called “March of Return” riots on the Israel-Gaza border, and while it has caused no casualties thus far, hundreds of acres of land have been destroyed, totaling millions of dollars in damage. Since the beginning of this year, over 220 acres have been destroyed.

Although work is ongoing, the IDF has been unable to create a viable countermeasure to the incendiary devices.

The Israeli news site Mako reported that in the absence of a military defense, a startup called Airqules has developed an entirely Israel-built firefighting drone that can respond rapidly and effectively to the fires as soon as they start.

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The drone is capable of carrying 30 kilos in weight for more than a half hour of flight, and fires shells filled with flame-retardant material. When the shells come into contact with intense heat, they disperse the material, which can extinguish fires as large as five square meters.

The system is also capable of thermal scanning at a range of 20 square kilometers to detect fires and can fly at up to 90 kilometers per hour. Particularly innovative is the system developed to keep the aircraft balanced even as it releases its cargo, which is now under patent.

The drone itself is backed up by a sophisticated detection system, which feeds information from the thermal scanner to computers located in a “war room” in Kibbutz Nir Am. The computers recognize anomalous temperature readings, calculate if there is a fire, and then relayy the assessment to operators, who work in shifts. If a fire is confirmed, a drone is dispatched and quickly extinguishes the flames.

Alon Alsheich, one of the founders of Airqules and a resident of Nir Am, said he came up with the idea after “I saw how the arson terror turns the whole area I live in, and my life’s work and that of my friends from a bustling place into a disaster zone.”

“I’m just on my way home with the kids,” recalled Alsheikh of one of the fires that endangered Nir Am. “When I get close to the town, I see that everything is burned and the access road is blocked by a patrol car.”

His children asked him, “Dad, if we are so strong, how can they beat us with balloons?”

“I told them I’d take care of the problem, and that’s where everything started,” he said.

He began slowly — the laboratory where he and his partners worked on the drone was located in the kibbutz’s chicken coop — but later found assistance from SouthUp, a “technological incubator” specifically set up to aid high-tech entrepreneurs in the Shaar Ha’Negev region near the Gaza border.

Although the team approached the security services and officials for help, they have not received any aid, and are still struggling with financial obstacles, like many Negev-area startups.

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