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Wildfire Prevention: Drones Paired with IoT Can Complement Satellite Surveillance

By Dick Weisinger

The last few years, especially on the West Coast of the US, wildfires have been devastating. The number of wildfires, the scale of the burns, and the damage inflicted have risen dramatically.

Climate Central reports that “on average, wildfires burn twice as much land area each year as they did 40 years ago.”

Char Miller, professor at Pomona College, said that “we’re looking at our future every time we look at a fire.”

Michael Goss, Stanford University climate scientist, said that “wildfires in California are going to continue or get worse. It could be that we’re going to see more seasons where we have multiple large wildfires across the state of California.”

Technology is increasingly being used to try to minimize some of the damage from wildfires. Technology can be used to help predict, detect and manage wildfires by measuring factors that influence and cause them, like temperature, CO2, humidity, and wind direction and speed.

Satellite imagery has historically been a principal tool for studying climate conditions, but increasingly IoT sensor devices are being deployed to gather more detailed data.

For example, a study at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) positioned very low cost sensors throughout an area. The sensors themselves did not have enough power to transmit and communicate data long distances, so they were paired with a low-flying drone that could fly in the proximity of the sensors and collect their data. The drone then would return to its base to relay the information that it collected.

Tareq Al-Naffouri, professor at KAUST, and Osama Bushnaq, PhD student, said that “UAV-IoT networks are rapidly advancing, allowing for ubiquitous application at declining deployment cost… Given optimal UAVs and IoT device densities, the wildfire can be detected in a much shorter time when compared with satellite imaging. UAV-IoT networks will be complementary to satellite imaging. The UAV-IoT network would be particularly suitable for wildfire detection in high-risk regions, such as near human settlements and national parks.”

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