forest fire

Can Wireless Tech Help Fight Fires?

This has been the year of raging wildfires. Scientists say that climate change is driving these extreme weather events.

Severe heatwaves and strong winds have fuelled the fires devouring forests, farmland, homes, and businesses across Europe. Thousands of people (and animals) have had to flee. Flames have killed 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey. In France, 1200 firefighters are struggling to contain a major blaze that is devastating the country’s wine region. Yet another forest fire broke out on Greece’s largest island Evia yesterday. Intense drought and heat have also sparked wildfires in the United States and Russia. Data suggests that these incidents are responsible for 20% of annual global CO2 emissions.

Fire Starters

The obvious solution to the wildfire problem is to address the cause – climate change. However, what can be done to manage the current situation in the meantime? According to the experts, early detection is key. If authorities are aware of dangerous conditions occurring that may lead to a wildfire, they can take action. Sadly, the reality of monitoring forested regions and areas prone to wildfires is often ad hoc and underfunded. It relies on the piecemeal effort of weather reports, lookouts, and luck. Aircraft monitoring and GPS technology have improved early detection but don’t provide preemptive information.

That’s where the IoT – or the Internet of Things – comes in. For the uninitiated, the Internet of Things refers to the billions of physical devices around the world that are now connected to the internet, all collecting and sharing data. The ubiquity of super-cheap computer chips and wireless networks means nearly any inanimate object can communicate real-time data, merging digital and physical environments. 

So can IoT tech provide an early detection solution?

Wireless Wonders

Now, several environmentally-minded firms such as Dryad, LADsensors, and Seidor are forging ahead with IoT systems using wireless sensors to reduce reaction time to forest fires. For example, Dryad is developing a wireless environmental sensor network for large-scale deployments in areas without existing network coverage. As well as the alerting function, data is processed for analytics to monitor the vitality and growth of forests and ecosystems. Speaking to the EE Times, Dryad CEO Carsten Brinkschulte explains, “A key part of our innovation is the ability for the base stations to talk to each other and do kind of Chinese whispers, one receives the message, it passes it on to the next and the next until it reaches a gateway that is Internet-connected… With this, we can cover vast areas, like thousands of square kilometers, without each base station being connected to the Internet.” 

The Dryad sensors are battery-less and need no servicing. All they require is a tree to hang off. An integrated gas sensor chip detects the amount of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide in the air. The sensor then uses machine learning to determine the combination of gases typical for a wildfire. The aim is to detect the start of a fire in less than an hour. “We get high accuracy and low failure rates. When you’re looking at fire, the earlier you can catch it the better, right? And we can detect a fire before it is a fire, when it is still in the smoldering phase,” Brinkschulte continues. 

Fire Fighters

Whilst the Dryad Network and other IoT early detection systems are still being trialed and cannot yet offer volume discounts for individual consumers, they do potentially provide governments –and other large entities such as energy companies – with another defense mechanism against wildfires and forest destruction. “It’s not going to solve the problem single-handedly,” Dryad CEO Brinkschulte concludes, “But we think it’s a very important addition to the puzzle that’s extremely complementary to satellite or camera-based solutions because we have this ultra-early detection capability.”

Dryad is part of the Greenbackers 26 for COP26 initiative
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