Honda grant funds student’s drone wildfire research

Payne Reed

Aerospace engineering doctoral student Payne Reed is the recipient of a grant from the American Honda Motor Co. aimed at promoting sustainable aviation research. Reed’s $7,500 award will support his research using uncrewed aerial vehicles to investigate the complexities of the wildfire continuum.

Advised by Associate Professor Mrinal Kumar, Reed plans to use uncrewed aerial vehicles to comprehend how the practice of “prescribed burns” – fires that are deliberately set to reduce the amount of excess fuel in a forest – can help mitigate wildfires and return carbon to the soil. His research is timely as many regions of the United States have recently experienced catastrophic wildfires that have led to loss of life and property.  

Reed stated, “People are concerned about prescribed burns because of the carbon emissions that are released. But if we can demonstrate how they help add carbon back to the soil and prevent larger wildfires, we might see greater public acceptance of them.”

The Honda funding will help Reed deploy uncrewed aerial systems to gather data about a wildfire-supporting fuel type, condition before the burn, fire spread, intensity and emissions. Among other equipment, hyperspectral cameras will capture vital data for identifying and predicting fuel conditions, fire spread and carbon flux. Reed will then apply machine learning techniques, sensor fusion and path-planning algorithms to develop a more comprehensive understanding of wildfire dynamics.

Reed is one of multiple award recipients as part of a larger $100,000 donation. Honda is helping four graduate students and several student capstone teams to take flight as part of a grant to The Ohio State University for sustainable aviation research and learning.

The grant targets the difficult challenge of decarbonizing the aviation industry by mobilizing the talents of students who understand the serious threat that climate change poses to the world today. Although aviation accounts for only 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions, that figure is expected to increase as other transportation sectors such as automotive move toward electrification. Honda provided the $100,000 grant as part of its commitment to support programs that aim to build a carbon free and sustainable future. 

“This grant exemplifies the core values and visions we believe at Honda: devote resources to power the ideas and dreams of future generation, stay fully committed to achieve zero environmental impact, and collaborate with universities and government to tackle the challenge of our time,” said Kui Ou, Ph.D., Senior Director of Flight Sciences at Honda Aircraft Company. 

“Through the awards, we proudly support the student recipients at Ohio State University to pursue their bright ideas to expand their life’s potentials and to bring forward a more sustainable future. We are very honored to be part of their journey in collaboration with our prestigious public partners.”

Original story first published on the website of the Office of Innovation and Economic Development.