Advanced Forest Fire Fighting Project Seeks to Revolutionize Wildland Firefighting

A new digital system which can detect and monitor large-scale fires aims to revolutionize how firefighters approach forest fires and is set to drastically reduce environmental and property damage and protect human lives.

The University of Westminster is a partner in the Advanced Forest Fire Fighting (AF3) project, which involves 20 institutions from 10 countries. The project aims to improve the efficiency of current firefighting operations and the protection of human lives, the environment and property by developing innovative ground and aerial technologies to ensure the integration between new and existing systems.

The University of Westminster has developed so called Low-Power Wireless Ground Sensor Nodes (LPWGSN) and accompanying drone technology which together can detect wild forest fires in their early stages and can monitor them in real time, enabling large scale wildland firefighting services to target these fires with unprecedented precision, day and night. The innovative technology is the pinnacle of the European Commission funded multi-million-euro AF3 activity.

The complete system, developed during the AF3 project, allows firefighters to drop pellets – filled with water or fire-retardant mixtures contained in biodegradable plastic pouches – from the air quickly and with precision targeting the areas to most effectively extinguish the fire. This can ultimately protect human lives, the environment and property, taking fires under control and putting them out before they spread.

The new sensor nodes and accompanying drone applications developed at Westminster’s Applied DSP and VLSI Research Group (ADVRG) are at the heart of this new firefighting approach and have been tested in real-life fires in Greece, Spain, and Israel. These tests have proved their worth in being cost-effective and groundbreaking in making the different parts of the system function effectively, helping firefighters get to the heart of the problem and address the fires quickly and more efficiently.

The sensor nodes can provide the fire services with invaluable information about environmental factors contributing to the fire, including location, temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and direction, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and oxygen levels.

Apart from forest fires, the innovative nodes and network can also be used in optimal agriculture, indoor climate control such as heating ventilation and air conditioning, and urban air quality monitoring.

Professor Izzet Kale, who is the Director of the (ADVRG) at the University of Westminster and who led the project, said: “This is a step change in the way wildfires and other forms of urban fires will be detected and stopped in their tracks before they spread and cause irreversible damage to the environment, wildlife, as well as loss of human life. The days of having a need for visibility and highly skilled pilots to undertake dangerous, sometimes inaccurate and ineffective water drops on wildfires will be over. The intelligent sensors and sensor network we have developed focuses on power autonomy and is designed around a ‘deploy and forget’ paradigm, enabling automated large scale strategic distribution in forests having high risks for fires.

“In addition to early fire detection, and monitoring the sensors and their networks will be an invaluable asset and tool for long term environment monitoring of a wide range of parameters for research purposes.”

About the Advanced Fire Fighting (AF3) project

Funded by the European Commission, AF3 started in May 2014 and was carried out and concluded at the end of July 2017. AF3 intends to improve the efficiency of current firefighting operations and by developing innovative technologies to ensure the integration between existing and new systems. As a part of the AF3 emergency response system, the ADVRG’s LPWGSN accompanied with the deployment of drones provides near and real-time environmental monitoring capabilities, more specifically forming the project’s ground and aerial monitoring technologies.

AF3 contributes to increasing the interoperability of firefighting means and to paving the way for industrialisation of such solutions. To reach this objective, the AF3 project focused on innovative active and passive countermeasures, early detection and monitoring, integrated crisis management and advanced public information channels. The project consolidated the expertise and technologies of the various partners involved, in delivering a seamless and complete forest fire detection, monitoring, and fighting solution and has developed a sophisticated integrated emergency response system.

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