A wildfire-detecting Pano AI camera mounted on a tower in Oregon’s Yamhill County. (Source: Pano AI)

Geekwire Special Series: How AI Upgrades Will Aid in Detecting Wildfires

With wildfires in the continental United States becoming larger and more numerous every year, firefighters are seeking updated and improved equipment. Many of the resources used on today’s fires have been the same tools that have existed for decades, even though wildfires are getting more dangerous.

Geekwire.com is publishing an eye-opening special series called “Bot or Not,” exploring the evolving relationship between humans and machines and the ways that robots, AI and automation are impacting our work and lives. A recent article explores how bots are helping to fight wildfires with a new combination of tech.

Deciding Where & How to Respond

Washington state leaders are trying to expedite their response to wildland blazes by putting virtual eyes in the forest. The state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this spring announced a pilot project with Pano AI, a startup offering high-definition cameras and software. They’re deploying the technology this summer.

The pilot includes installing 21 of the company’s 360-degree cameras on a patch of state trust lands on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, an area lacking good fire detection capabilities, according to officials. The traditional approach to finding fires has been 911 calls and aerial surveys.

Pano AI’s system monitors the landscape around the clock, using AI-powered software to review the camera footage and send an alert if a fire is discovered and verified.

“As soon as the system is in place, we’re hoping it starts helping immediately,” said George Geissler, Washington’s state forester and DNR’s deputy supervisor for wildfire operations.

Reasonable Costs

While Pano AI gave Washington State a bit of a break on the price of its camera, it still costs about $50,000 for each. The number needed depends on the square miles of the area that is to be protected.

Then again, how much is the cost of a wildfire worth to a community like Paradise, California which was completely wiped out a few years ago? The Camp Fire that erupted on Nov. 8, 2018, in the Sierra Nevada foothills killed 85 people, destroyed nearly 19,000 homes, businesses, and other buildings, and virtually razed the town of Paradise.

There are several well-known and other start-ups that are diligently working on creating new firefighting tools using high tech. Google and Lockheed Martin are applying satellite tech to aid in firefighting.

The confidence in the released statement from the CEO of Pano AI should bring some relief and hope to our firefighters and their families everywhere.

Pano AI’s CEO Sonia Kastner asserts that the technology will help:

“Our wildfire intelligence solution combines ultra-high-definition cameras, satellites, 5G, AI, and an easy-to-use software interface, all with the goal of making firefighting safer and more effective in the face of increasingly destructive climate-related threats,” said Kastner in a statement announcing the pilot.

So far this approach to the fires seems to be a huge step forward.

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