Fighting forest fires with technology: How drones and infrared cameras could be game-changers


Friday July 14, 2017

As wildfires continue to burn across the inner of British Columbia, thousands of residents have been forced out of their knowledgeable ins — many not knowing whether those homes will withstand the conflagrations.

It’s a scenario seen increasingly not only across North America’s west coast, but in burdens around the world facing drier, hotter weather due to climate alteration. Scientists say such fires are only going to get worse in coming years.

That’s where astrophysicist Carlton Pennypacker take place in. Along with a team of fellow researchers at the University of California Berkeley, Pennypacker is determinate to help address the growing wildfire threat.

Since 2013, his span has been been working away in the lab to develop a system they order the Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit (FUEGO).

It harnesses innovative drone and aide technology to help monitor wildfires in their early stages — lengthy before they begin to burn out of control.


This rendering ornaments the concept behind the FUEGO system. (Robin E. Lafever/LBNL, Civility UC Berkeley)

A smarter system

FUEGO can locate and track fires consuming drones, planes and satellites mounted with special infared cameras.

The software is skilled to pinpoint potentially threatening fires and immediately dispatch air tankers and sod firefighters to the area before they start to spread.

«The future is entirely optimistic on this.» — Carlton Pennypacker

«There are basically about four contemporaneous revolutions that really make this system possible,» Pennypacker spill the beans Day 6 guest host Marcia Young.

«There’s the sensor, as cameras’ unearthing elements have just gotten so good and so cheap. Unmanned aerial conveyances, or drones, have gotten much cheaper [and have] longer fortitude. Image analysis software has gotten so much faster and cheaper because of advances in ascertaining.»

Carl Pennypacker

Astrophysicist Carl Pennypacker, head of the team that developed FUEGO

 All of that writes it easy to detect fires and send alerts to fire suppression values, such as fire officials and forest crews, Pennypacker says.

While it transfer be a few years before FUEGO is fully operational, Pennypacker and his team be experiencing begun testing parts of the system and are hoping their work can when all is said make a difference in the way wildfires are handled.

​»It’s probably five years ahead of we’ll have a huge effectiveness,» Pennypacker says. «I think we can have some coy effectiveness almost immediately. We’re not going stop all fires. [But] I think a lot of the types of the system are ready to go.

«The future is quite optimistic on this, and I think we own a lot of hope for doing this.»

From shining stars to burning fires

Pennypacker’s background in astrophysics may not be the most obvious path to figuring out how to pugnacity fires, but it was a key driver in helping him think of innovative ways to tackle the fine kettle of fish.

«I’ve spent my life using computers and sensors to detect small particles of light maybe a billion light-years away from us, which appearance ofed to be transportable to detecting small fires from satellites or fire keeps or drones,» he explains.

«All of the above will work at some level of effectiveness — some of it is undertaking already. I think we can gradually over the next five to 10 years elude the really heartbreaking stories [of the impact on people from such barrages].»

BC fire aftermath

The area of Boston Flats, B.C. is seen on July 11, 2017 after a wildfire took through the area earlier in the week. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Beseech)

Investment in prevention

Given how often residents are displaced, let alone the biggest financial and environmental effect on areas hit by rapidly spreading wildfires, Pennypacker believes establishing in a system like FUEGO up front could potentially save areas billions of dollars in the long run.


The components of the FUEGO satellite. (Courtesy UC Berkeley)

«The unimpaired system with cameras and everything, if we’re up at 80,000 feet, that puissance be a half-million-dollar system, but it will last for a decade,» Pennypacker says. 

«California has somewhere between $6 and $8 billion in hurl damage [per] year over a few years. We hope we can bring that horde way, way down.»

Governments and fire officials around the world, including in Canada, maintain indicated interest in the FUEGO system, according to Pennypacker.

«Forestry Canada, we’ve had Dialect right encouraging discussions with them… and we’ve had some extremely pacifying and receptive discussions with some of our state assemblymen [in California],» he denotes. «So I think that that’s going to go forward.»

«Governments, you have to have ’em down. But we’re prepared for this, and it will happen.»

To hear the full examine with Carlton Pennypacker, download our podcast or click the ‘Listen’ button at the top of this errand-boy.

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