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Can data and new technology save the rest of Australia from bushfires?

Despite the brief respite from rainfalls, firefighters in Australia are still busy fighting the stubborn fires in about 60 hotspots. With hot and strong wind expected to resurface, Australians, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, risk further destruction.

Four firefighters have died while trying to keep the bushfires under control. There’s no denying the courage and sacrifice shown by the heroic firefighters. The firefighters may yet face their most difficult battle with the ravaging fire in days to come.

With the emergence of big data and new technologies, will the balance tip in favor of the firefighters and spare the rest of Australia from the inferno?

Predicting Bushfires with Data Modelling

The term ‘big data’ has been flaunted around in various industries and how it can provide insights for decision making. Technically, ‘big data’ involves acquiring and processing a large quantity of data to generate information and data-models.

One of the greatest challenges of containing wildfires is predicting how the fire may spread. Scientists have made headways into software programs that predict where and when the fire may spread using data modeling. The programs take in input like weather, wind direction, topography, and other relevant data to aid firefighters in strategizing their plans.

Data modeling has been a great help to firefighters in containing wildfires in California. However, such predictive algorithms seem to be overwhelmed by the size and ferocity of the fires in Australia. The data gathered by the program are overridden by the speed of how the fire tears through the country.

Using Drones for Data Gathering

Drones have grown beyond hobbyists play toys. Today we use it to solve challenging tasks. In tackling bushfires, it is important to have real-time information on the fire that rages in the forest. Usually, helicopters operated by a skilled pilot are sent over the hotspots to gather the required data.

But, deploying helicopters can be risky and costly. Special drones can function in harsh environments with lesser cost and zero risks on human life. Such drones are equipped with thermal imaging scanners and cameras that send the information back to a computer in real-time.

Firefighting Robots Take Up the Heat

Often, firefighting efforts are hampered when the flames are too hot for humans to approach. This is where a firefighting robot is useful, as proved in the case of the Notre Dame fire. Firefighting robots are built to withstand the intense heat in a fire.

Such robots are equipped with cameras, thermal scanners, gas sensors and can be fitted with heavy equipment. As the Australian bushfire is notorious for its intense flame, the government had procured TAF 20 in 2015, the first firefighting robot to aid firefighters.

Augmented Reality Camera

Poor visibility due to smokes has often disrupted firefighting efforts. Conventional handheld thermal scanners were used to pick up thermal images, but its effectiveness is limited. Usually, the thick smoke blocks the screen on the device.

In 2018, a brilliant invention took images from thermal cameras and displayed it in an augmented reality glass fitted inside the firefighter mask. Without losing visibility on the thermal images, firefighters will have a clear view of what’s going on even when they are engulfed in thick smoke.

Bottom Line

While data and technology have increased firefighting capability, it’s far-fetch to claim that they will be the game-changer in one of Australia’s worst bushfires. Every single advantage of technological advancement may boost the odds of preventing further destruction.