Firetail in the pond

You know how It can be extremely difficult to carry out a marine survey with equipment that is expensive, not easily carried or operated, Well, what we did was develop a marine survey robot that is low cost and can be backpacked and transported anywhere in the world. In fact, our unmanned surface vessels Firetail autopilot was a winner of the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge in 2016 awarded by the Australian Government.


Firetail makes into the Australian Foreign Policy Whitepaper

An idea by two guys in a shed in Albury’ is capturing attention in the world of disaster response. Back in 2014, helicopter pilot Jack Hurley joined with a small team of engineers to create an unmanned aerial robot—also known as a UAR or drone—that could be used to quickly capture photos and data after a disaster like a flood or cyclone. Jack is now the Chief Executive Officer of Firetail.

Recognising that it is very expensive to get an aircraft to take photos from the air, Jack and his team ‘set out to create something that was affordable, easy to operate and mobile, but still rugged enough to withstand the challenging environments of the Pacific’, Jack says.

Their prototype, Firetail, consisted of a low-cost foam wing and Australian-designed and made autopilot system. Firetail could be deployed in minutes and was small enough to fit in a backpack but Jack and his team needed to test it first. ‘We knew that in order to fully understand the local requirements in a disaster area, and the needs of the people who would ultimately be using Firetail, we would have to go to the Pacific and run a pilot program there’, Jack says.

 Working with the local stakeholders and community members was an incredible experience.

Jack applied for and won a grant under the Government’s Pacific Humanitarian Challenge 2016, which invited anyone in the world to come up with innovative solutions to problems faced in emergency response. Winning the challenge gave Jack and his team the financial and technical support needed to make their Pacific pilot happen. Jack travelled to Vanuatu and Fiji, and DFAT’s assistance helped him establish local partnerships to test Firetail in the field. ‘Working with the local stakeholders and community members was an incredible experience’, he says. ‘Through programs like the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge, we have managed to take our initial prototype and turn it into something that is made for the Pacific to benefit the people of the Pacific.’

The resulting Firetail model incorporated important design features to meet the needs of first responders in disaster areas. ‘These vital changes would not have happened without the opportunity to work with and learn from the people we met as part of our Pacific pilot’, Jack says.  

Firetail has the potential to assess damage and humanitarian needs in remote areas at a low cost. ‘Having this new technology, being able to take photos, quickly stitch the photos together and build a map is obviously a huge win for local communities’, Jack says. Firetail’s affordability also means that humanitarian agencies will be able to gather images faster and more efficiently than before. As reported by tech publisher Gizmodo, ‘the impact of Firetail in countries hit by natural disasters could save numerous lives’.

Mount Yasur Tanna Island Vanuatu

Mount Yasur Tanna Island Vanuatu

Firetail Vanuatu and Volcanoes

Firetail chose Vanuatu as one of its pilot sites and visited Port Vila from 17 – 23 Sep 2016 to familiarise the team with Vanuatu and meet key stakeholders, in particular the Vanuatu Government’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), DFAT in Port Vila and World Vision Vanuatu (WVV).  


This involved flying the drone in Vanuatu airspace and the necessary approvals required. Firetail presented to World Vision Vanuatu staff on Wed 21 September in Port Vila and to Vanuatu Humanitarian Team on Thu 22 September, also in Port Vila.

At these presentations the Firetail team answered a range of questions which provided insights to ensure the design accommodates cultural considerations and local conditions. 


This is some of the most unique footage ever captured from a UAV (Drone) inside a volcano. Firetail Australia would like to thank World Vision Australia and Vanuatu as well as NDMO Vanuatu, DFAT Australia, Innovation Exchange Australia and CAA Vanuatu for this unique opportunity.

And the winners are....


Well we did it...  We’re excited that Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP and Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells have announced the winners of the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge.  Here they are:

  • Mobile SME Insurance in the Pacific Islands – BIMA Leapfrog
  • The Firetail: An Easily-Deployed Low-Cost Unmanned Aerial System – Firetail
  • Pacific Local Supplier Engagement Project – Australian Red Cross
  • Infrastructure-Independent Mobile Communications – Flinders University & New Zealand Red Cross
  • Pacific Drone Imagery Dashboard (PacDID) – Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

They started with 129 top class ideas which were selected down to 10, among these were 30 drone related projects! well done us :)

Announcing the Top Ten Finalists of the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge


The Pacific Humanitarian Challenge asked the world to find innovative solutions to problems that the Pacific Islands face every time they respond to an emergency. We are pleased to be announced as a top ten finalist!

Firetail: Easily Deployed Low Cost UAS
The Firetail is an unmanned aerial system consisting of a low cost foam wing, Australian made and designed Firetail autopilot and software to enable both the collection and presentation of real time georeferenced images and maps for damage assessment. This project was developed by Australian technology and UAV specialists.