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AI to combat wildfires : California County tests new technology


Wildfires have been a burning concern for the people of California. Apart from the damage it wreaks, the loss of life and resources is equally disconcerting.

Recently, a new recruit has been added to the wildfire fighting arsenal – artificial intelligence. Sonoma County, California sports another stellar example of how artificial intelligence can be utilized to augment human efforts, adding to its efficiency.

South Korean firm, Alchera will be backing the technology. In addition to the fire spotting cameras, the design will incorporate a software that facilitates the early detection of wildfire activity, which will in turn alert the authorities. The technology works by examining past and current images of terrain, keeping an eye out for particular changes that indicate a potential fire like flames burning in the  dark or smoky hazes.

However, the technology cannot be expected to completely efficient unless it is first trained and taught by humans to differentiate between an actual fire smoke and other false alarms, like a cloud or fog. The algorithm of the software can be refined only by using feedback from humans. This will hopefully help it to detect wildfires on its own in due course. The process according to Chris Godley, the director of emergency management is similar to learning how to read by putting together letters at first.

Post its activation on Wednesday, the technology detected sixteen reports of smoke, all positive. They turned out to be permitted burns. After the seasonal ban on permitted burns comes into effect by April or May, the testing and feedback phase will be updated. This would presumably enable the technology to move forward from the ‘learning’ phase to provide accurate and reliable intelligence.

In the words of Chris Godley,

“This is cutting-edge work, to bring this capability into the hands of local first responders. It is going to take us awhile to make sure we get the bugs out, as it were, and that we really can depend on it because ultimately this is a lifesaving mission.”

One of the major roadblocks when it comes to fighting fires is the lack of early warning. The technology is expected to overcome this challenge by enabling early detection and redressal. This can facilitate early evacuation procedures, thereby saving a lot of damage and loss. The utility of the technology is even more stressed at night when detection of smoke and flames is less likely due to lack of bystanders.

Sonoma County’s agreement with Alchera is till February 2023. Experts expect other places to adopt the technology if it touches the mark of success. It is widely hoped that its potential is realized in a year or two, thereby helping to create a dramatic impact on California.







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