03 September, 2019

A few weeks earlier, the world witnessed  the world’s largest Rainforest, the Amazon or “The Lungs of the Earth” being rapidly burnt down in uncontrolled blazing wildfires. In Sri Lanka, our own Forests in Ella Rock in Uva Province were in flames due to Wildfires. And, in the past few years, we have seen incidents of wildfires become commonplace, as places around the world face drier and hotter weather due to climate change.

 

Wildfires in Ella, Sri Lanka (Image credit: Asian Mirror)

 

The Amazon produces 20% of the Earth’s oxygen. Not only do the wildfires threaten to disrupt our production of oxygen and Earth’s delicate elemental balance, but they also affects countless groups of indigenous people and endangering the rainforest’s rich biodiversity.

Fires in the Amazon (Image credit: INPE)

Fires in the Amazon (Image credit: INPE)

 

Scientists have predicted that fires are going to get worse as we move forward through the years. The worse a wildfire gets, the harder it is to put it out. Thus, we should focus on early detection and suppression, before the fires get out of hand. 

Possibilities into technology that can bring prediction and prevention of wildfires should be looked into. The remote capabilities of technology solutions have been employed for a while in certain hazardous industries like mining or oil and gas, and therefore has the potential for keeping humans out of harm’s way where wildfires are concerned.

Here are a few ways how technology can help in fighting wildfires.

1. Satellite

Since 2013, the University of California Berkeley has had a team working on a project called the Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit (FUEGO). This system employs both satellite and drone technologies to monitor wildfires at an early stage and before they grow out of control. Satellites and bespoke software are used to pinpoint potentially dangerous fires and drones equipped with special infrared cameras are mobilized to track the fire’s progress. If it becomes a major threat, the system alerts and dispatches air tankers and ground firefighters to the fire’s location to control it before it spreads.

2. Drones

Drones have additional uses in combatting wildfires. They can be fitted with both regular and thermal imaging cameras and can fly into areas that manned aircraft can’t – including at night when winds die down and fires become theoretically easier to control. Drones are able to produce maps overnight which can be used by fire and evacuation crews first thing in the morning and also free up aircraft to do other vital work.

3. Robots

Another technological development that keeps humans out of harm’s way is the firefighting robot. Often wildfires get so hot that firefighters are unable to get close enough to extinguish them. Now,  engineers have come up with a firefighting robot that can. Thermite, developed by Howe and Howe Technologies in Maine, USA, is a firefighting robot that can battle wildfires even in the most extreme conditions.

4. Virtual Reality (VR)

Used by organizations all over the world from the Red Cross to United Nations aid agencies, VR is helping fight wildfires too. The US Forest Service is employing VR to train smokejumpers – wildland firefighters who parachute into remote areas to combat wildfires – in a safe environment. The VR simulators create 3D representations of the fire scenario, with trainers able to change physical characteristics like wind direction and speed, to prepare smokejumpers for real life engagements in truly dangerous conditions.

5. IoT

Low-powered Internet of Things (IoT) connected sensors are also being used to gather data from remote areas that are potential wildfire hotspots. Sensors can be used to detect and measure the level of CO2 and check for unseasonably high temperatures, indicating the possible presence of fires in the area. Given that these connected devices require minimal power, a Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) such as LoRa is ideal here.

 

As a conclusion, early warning and detection systems, remote technologies and digital connectivity can help to make wildfire-fighting a more proactive exercise, and also potentially driving down the costs of prevention. Technology can have a positive impact in many ways on top of saving lives of animals and people and protecting the environment around the world.

(Image credit: Interesting Engineering)