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Tech that can spot bushfires in 1 minute set for Tasmania trial

written by Adam Thorn | December 21, 2021
One of two Firehawk Helicopters’ UH-60AS-70A Black Hawks. (Ned Dawson, NSW Rural Fire Service)

New technology that can detect most bushfires in less than one minute could be set to be trialled in Tasmania, Australian Aviation can reveal.

Fireball founder Christopher Tylor said he’s in discussions to use the Apple Island as a test case for his innovation, which uses a combination of satellites and sensors to spot blazes before they can grow out of control.

Tylor was speaking to the Australian Aviation print magazine, out now, as part of our feature examining whether the country is ready for another Black Summer. To find out more and subscribe, click here.

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Fireball’s system can spot two-thirds of fires in less than 60 seconds and 95 per cent within five minutes.

It works by effectively “flipping” the same methodology used to spot supernova explosions in galaxies millions of light-years away. It means satellites peer down to Earth rather than out to space.

Already, Fireball has a system up and running in California, with 800 cameras on the ground.

“I always thought, ‘There’s so much technology out there, why are we still fighting fires as we did 100 years ago?’” said Tylor.

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In January, he tested it out here in Australia by setting a tiny drum on fire in an unused airfield in Noosa, Queensland.

“We put charcoal on the bottom, hay bales on top and placed cameras up on the mountain about 10 kilometres away and another one finger metres on the other side of the lake. And then, we fed these camera images into artificial intelligence and detected the fire. It was a horrible day, windy and raining, but the system detected it within three minutes.”

Currently, Fireball is using geostationary satellites already in space, but it plans to launch its own from Australia in the first half of 2022. If it all goes well, Tylor will have a constellation of up to 48 when completed.

Tylor is in discussion to cover the whole island of Tasmania as a trial but thinks he could potentially protect Queensland for just $20 million – a minuscule amount compared with the Black Summer’s losses, which range in estimates from $10 billion to $100 billion.

It comes after Australian Aviation on Monday reported how a new aerial system that can map the path and growth of bushfires in real-time will similarly soon begin trials in South Australia.

Adelaide-based company FireFlight Technologies has created a system that uses thermal imaging sensors mounted to a manned aircraft to detect flames through kilometres of thick and billowing smoke, and accurately track a fire’s path.

To find out more and subscribe to the Australian Aviation print magazine, click here.

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