Recent devastating wildfires in California – with negative economic impact (and death toll) about half of Hurricanes Harvey– brings to mind a near-term suggestion that could have been implemented already.
This would be the self-driving fire truck and/or the robotic water cannon. Actually even a small format like the size of an ATV is amenable to this implementation – bringing a few hundred gallons of fire retardant to a site ASAP without the need human supervision (and delay). The main point to keep in mind in this suggestion is that satellites can spot a wildfire within seconds of its starting and any fire is exponentially easier to contain, the sooner first responders arrive at the scene. By having many robots spread over a large area, response time is further slashed. Fire crews are of course optimized for quick response – but even so a 10-20 minutes delay is inevitable especially at night, and valuable time could be saved if a fleet of driverless water tankers were widely deployed in high risk areas. As soon as a satellite picks up a possible wildfire – within seconds, not minutes – a first response vehicle is headed to the coordinates of the active site and in many cases fire retardant can be sprayed before the area gets out of control. I suspect that Google and Waymo (not Uber) are fully aware of this prime application already – but guess what - the Chinese are taking orders… If the US is lagging, let’s put a fire under their butt to get prototypes out in the field this year! since now is the time to get government involved and the fire season is far from over. Plus, the future of self-driving cars can derive PR benefits from an early successful implementation. (do not use the phrase “killer app”) Here is the Chinese version – made primarily for crowd control, it is said – but I suppose that is the easiest way to get the basic idea approved by Congress http://sc01.alicdn.com/kf/HTB1rMU7KpXXXXctXpXXq6xXFXXXk/Firefighting-robot-with-water-cannon-monitor.jpg