An early bushfire detection system is currently seeking funding to be deployed before Australia’s next bushfire season thanks to UNSW Digital Grid Futures Institute, a research group headed by Professor Joe Dong. The new system will utilize drones equipped with an array of sensors to monitor changes that could mean a bushfire is nearing.

Drones to monitor Australia for early bushfire prevention

Similarly to Nokia’s tsunami drone detection system, a new bushfire detection system from the UNSW Digital Grid Futures Institute is seeking funding to be up and running before the next bushfire season.

The drones will be flown into bushfire-prone areas equipped with an array of sensors capable of picking up changes in the atmosphere that will likely cause a bushfire. The data collected from the drones will be sent to an AI system to create an accurate heatmap of bushfire-prone areas.

The drone of choice for the detection system is the DJI Matrice 600 Pro drone as it’s crucial to have drones “with heavy-lifting capability, industrial-grade reliability, and long endurance flight time.” Vertical take-off and landing is also an important feature required for such a system.

We got the chance to chat with the project’s head Professor Joe Dong on the bushfire detection system and why drones have been chosen to get the job done.

1. Why turn to drones for monitoring bushfires over something like a satellite or a ground-based solution?

Several factors, including location control and flexibility – we can completely customize the drone by adding our range of sensors and capture the suite of data needed for the AI component of the drone. Camera and video functionality to view details remotely is an added advantage. Ground-based solutions would be damaged in the event of a fire, whereas a drone can be sent and controlled for a short, specific mission, and back to base away from any danger.

Specifically:

  • Ground resolution and level of details captured by drone would be much better than satellite;
  • Cost of mission implementation and turn-around time of sensing data of drone are superior over satellite;
  • Coverage area, speed, and flexibility of drones are way better than ground-based solutions even to the areas without ground access.

2. How long do you think it will be before the system will go live?

Assuming we can obtain the funding required, a workable concept can be ready for the next fire season. Saving lives will depend on uptake and response by government or other authorities who are at risk and can use this as a proactive option in their overall suite of preventative measures.

3. What are you most excited about the bushfire detection system? 

The devastation that Australia experienced these past months has destroyed communities, precious wildlife, and millions of hectares of bushland. I’m really excited that this type of technology can provide assurance to communities by saving lives along with the costs and disruption associated with the damage caused. It can also truly empower the authorities to take control, foresee, and act on any fire risk to prevent major catastrophes in the future. Professionally, it is especially meaningful to be able to ensure cutting edge research can respond to natural disasters and grand challenges. UNSW Digital Grid Futures Institute exists to deliver real-world impact through our cross-faculty research, so meeting this goal is very rewarding.

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Photo: UNSW

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