Australian bushfires of 2019–20, Amazonian rainforest wildfire in Brazil, Camp Fire of 2018 in Paradise, California, Uttarakhand forest fires of 2016 in India, Congo Basin fires, fires in Bolivia, Indonesia, Portugal, Russia, Greece… Wildfires can break out anytime, anywhere. Data collected by Global Forest Watch shows that between 2001 and 2018 North America has lost over 79Mha of forests, 43% of which was due to wildland fires. Russia, China, and South Asia together have lost 73Mha of their forests, with 59% of them burned down in fires.
All over the world, we have been gradually recording larger and more devastating wildfires due to climate change, prolonged droughts, ever increasing temperatures, as well as human activity. The technologies currently available on the market cannot fully prevent wildfires from happening. However, we keep developing tools which might substantially limit the damage wildfires cause. The most important factor minimizing said damage is the fast reaction time of fire services. It is obvious – the faster a wildfire is spotted, the easier it is to extinguish. Therefore, early detection is key. However, even though many different wildfire detection methods are being applied all over the world, around 90% of wildfires are still reported by random passers-by.
Wildfires are not only the cause of worse quality of air, excessive erosion, deforestation, or the decrease in biodiversity. Ever more often, they are responsible for human tragedies. The city’s infrastructure can be severely damaged, people can lose their homes or, in worst-case scenarios, even their lives.
The key to solving this problem is to provide an efficient early wildfire detection system, and to send notifications of the danger – not only to fire services but also to the people living in the area at risk. By installing a network of detectors in places at the highest risk of fire, we might protect numerous cities from the devastating consequences of wildfires. Our Polish-American product named SmokeD, which has been introduced to American, Australian and European markets, fulfils the above criteria and it can be used all over the world.
Fire Lookout Towers used to be widely erected all over the US, Canada, Germany, or Japan but currently they are rarely used as part of wildfire monitoring systems. The majority of them have been destroyed or turned into tourist attractions. Fire Lookout Towers have been gradually replaced by plain video surveillance cameras installed on towers. The footage is sent to observers in Response Centres who notify the appropriate services. It is worth noting that in this scenario the reaction time and accurate pinpointing of the wildfire depends entirely on humans. Installing cameras in high-risk areas is a good idea, but the detection itself is based on the experience, perception and availability of the human observer.
In 2010, a group of Polish foresters and computer scientists began to work on a tool for these observers that would make their job easier by facilitating the process of fire detection. Having combined their expertise from various fields, they have developed some algorithms that conduct photogrammetric analyses in search of traces of wildfires. After years of work, the SmokeD System was born – a tool equipped with the newest technologies utilizing AI and machine learning.
Currently, the SmokeD System includes specialized detectors installed in the open air, algorithms and methods analyzing the footage from cameras, and tools for fire services and civilians.
Each SmokeD detector is equipped with a couple of sensors, including a micro-computer which conducts the initial analysis of the footage and sends it to an AI-powered outside server. Once our advanced algorithms detect traces of smoke or flames, the users of SmokeD are notified of this fact. Because most wildfires break out after dusk, our detectors were designed to detect traces of wildfires 24/7.
Our detector network is a similar concept to Fire Lookout Towers; however, we substituted the human observer with an AI. The detectors can spot wildfire from as far as 10 miles and the longer they operate, the more familiar they become with the terrain, further increasing their detecting capabilities. Once the detector spots smoke or flames and identifies them as wildfire, the system pinpoints its location on the map. Our detectors can be installed on towers, roofs, walls or even on poles stuck into the ground in an area with good visibility. One example of a community that decided to use the SmokeD System is Hidden Hills, California where a couple of years ago all inhabitants had to be evacuated due to the Woolsey wildfire.
Immediate alerts for communities and fire services
As we all know, time is key in the case of wildfires. The main objective of our system is to reduce the time between the outbreak of a fire and the extinguishing action. To do this, we use the best way of notifying the communities of an upcoming threat – a mobile app. After wildfire is detected, every SmokeD system user receives a notification of the danger, together with a picture and exact location of the wildfire. They can later easily share it via text messages, email, or social media.
The SmokeD Alerts app is free and it is compatible with both iOS and Android devices, enabling fast and effective communication with the communities at risk. You can download the app from the AppStore or Google Play. You will gain access to the footage from public detectors and all the alerts from the past 30 days. The app will be notifying you about the danger 24/7.
Human vs AI-powered detection system
The largest advantage of incorporating advanced technologies into wildfire detection is that such systems can operate constantly. AI works 24/7 with even precision, ensuring constant surveillance, eliminating the need for people to work multiple shifts, and preventing any breaks in detection; and as a result of all of these reducing the overall costs of wildfire detection. The majority of wildfires were reported to fire services by random passers-by, as they were the ones closest to the disaster. The network of detectors replaces these random passers-by but works in a similar manner.
The system was designed to become a viable alternative to the currently applied solutions. You do not need any special infrastructure, lots of power, or high-speed Internet for it to properly function. The detectors can be connected both to your home network and to specialist towers. They consume as little power as a traditional surveillance camera and require 1Mb/s Internet to operate.
Size-wise our detectors are also like a typical surveillance camera, making them even easier to install by yourself. One of the focuses of the creators of the system was to ensure that anyone who feels unsafe due to a possible wildfire can easily install and use the system by themselves.
The system can be implemented over large areas – in national parks, hospitals, Zoos – as well as for small businesses or private users. If someone particularly values their privacy, the system can operate only for them – the owner. Detectors can be hidden from the public eye, and access to its footage can be granted to select users. This solution ensures both privacy and constant wildfire detection.
‘Our goal was to create a system equipped with the most advanced technologies that would be accessible to everyone – and not just the government or large corporations. The wildfires that we have heard of over the past couple of years have severely affected average people and small businesses. Imagine that in 2018 the ENTIRE city of Paradise, California burned down. Everything these people had literally just went up in smoke. All of their keepsakes, photographs, documents, clothes, cars… If wildfire is detected before it reaches a city, there are multiple paths we can take to fight it. We increase the possibility of taking the fire under control, saving the precious nature, and protecting the people from a massive tragedy.’ said Artur Matuszczak, founder of SmokeD.
In 2019, some cameras were installed in the state of New South Wales in Australia. Once the infamous Australian bushfire reached the southern parts of the continent, the detectors managed to spot the flames. The picture on p56 shows one frame from 4 January 2020 and the entire footage can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjseKL_xkJE.
Our system also detected smaller fires which are more difficult to spot. For instance, The Lost Fire that broke out in Sierra Nevada Mountains, near the Mammoth Lakes leisure centre. It started with a single lightning strike and because of a long-lasting drought and unfavorable weather conditions the fire spread within hours. Here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKFvujn9vzM) you can see the footage that shows The Lost Fire from its outbreak to successful extinguishing.
Some detectors were also installed in Guatemala, on a sugar cane plantation. They managed to detect over 250 wildfires over a couple of months, the farthest of which were 25 miles away from where the cameras had been installed.
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