Unmanned planes could soon be helping fight forest fires in the northwest if a Lakehead University professor's research pans out.

Dr. Abdelhamid Tayebi, an electrical engineering professor, just received a $225,000 research grant to look at ways to fly vehicles into dangerous places to perform a specific task.

He said a series of drones with sensors to respond to smoke or rising temperatures could be left in strategic locations in the forest.

"For example, one drone [would have] some kind of smoke [detector] … and … send a triggering signal to the [another] drone," Tayebi explained.

'Novel concepts'

Currently drones are semi-autonomous and require human supervision. Tayebi said he and his students will work to program drones to respond and fly without that supervision.

"We have the technology, we have the drones, we know how to program them, so we need probably some time to test some of those things," he said.

Tayebi, will receive a Discovery Accelerator Supplements Program grant of $120,000 over three years for his research.

According to a press release from the university, the program provides resources to "a select group of researchers in Canada whose proposals suggest and explore high-risk, novel, or potentially transformative concepts and lines of inquiry, and are likely to make an impact by contributing to ground-breaking advances in the area."