British Columbia firefighters will soon have access to wildfire early detection technology that uses 5G, artificial intelligence and satellites to spot emerging fires well before flames spread.
The first systems in Canada announced by Rogers on Thursday will connect Pano AI cameras capable of detecting smoke up to 20 kilometers away to 5G towers in northern British Columbia communities. Rogers is also partnering with SpaceX to deploy satellite-connected sensors in remote areas of the province that can help predict wildfire activity.
The technology will be rolled out “in the coming weeks,” said Neel Dayal, senior director of innovation and partnerships at Rogers, and will be operational before the end of the year.
He told PKBNEWS in an interview that the company hopes to deploy the technology across the country in the near future, as more Canadian provinces face the threat of wildfires.
“We have the connectivity and power to effectively power these cameras (with our 5G towers), and we have plenty of them (towers) across the country that we can leverage to help combat this “threat of wildfires, he said.
The announcement comes as British Columbia and Canada continue to battle a record wildfire season.
To date, approximately 176,000 square kilometers have been burned across the country, including more than 24,000 in British Columbia alone.
Firefighters continue to battle more than 380 fires in British Columbia and another 520 nationally.
Dayal said Rogers first partnered with researchers from the University of British Columbia and the BC Wildfire Service in 2021 to explore the pairing of 5G technology with emerging technologies like AI for early detection of forest fires.
At that time, British Columbia had just experienced the third worst wildfire season on record, which burned just under 8,700 square kilometers.
Rogers and UBC have been working together since 2018 to explore the capabilities of 5G, deploying low-power sensors in British Columbia’s forests to monitor weather and energy conditions and a*sess wildfire risks.
“These new technologies will expand the reach and capabilities of our existing 5G IoT sensor network, providing us with real-time data that can serve as the basis for an early warning system for wildfires and improve public safety,” said Dr. Mathieu Bourbonnais, a*sistant. professor of environmental sciences at UBC Okanagan and principal investigator of the Rogers 5G program, said in a statement.
Pano AI cameras are connected to 5G wireless towers near Fort St. James, Smithers and Chetwynd, British Columbia.
Each station includes two cameras mounted on a high vantage point, rotating 360 degrees and connected to the company’s AI software.
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The AI algorithm behind the camera would attempt to detect a plume of smoke and quickly alert first responders. The software is able to process images at a rapid rate to determine whether a plume is actually smoke from a fire, as opposed to a cloud or mist suspended in the air or a cloud of dust from a moving vehicle.
Panoramic cameras have already been deployed for wildfire detection in several western US states, including Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado, using the T-Mobile 5G network. Pano and T-Mobile pointed to early detection of a wildfire in Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest in July as proof of the camera system’s effectiveness.
Dayal said Rogers and its partners at UBC did not consult T-Mobile to inform their work, but that U.S. systems gave them “confidence” that they were on the right track.
“I think it provided further validation that 5G was a good technology enabling this type of solution,” he said.
Rogers said she will also donate satellite phones to the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association to support first responders participating in the wildfire response.
The satellite sensors will use SpaceX’s low-bandwidth Swarm service, which has already been used for satellite-to-phone coverage in remote areas of Canada.
Early detection of wildfires is increasingly being adopted by researchers, private companies and governments as the threat of fire continues to grow due to climate change.
The Canadian Space Agency, Canadian Forest Service, Canadian Center for Mapping and Earth Observation and Environment and Climate Change Canada are expected to launch WildfireSat, the world’s first satellite specifically designed to monitor wildfires, in 2029 .
AI-powered sensors are also being developed by researchers in the United States and Canada.
A 2022 United Nations report found that wildfires are becoming “more intense and more frequent” and said that with temperatures rising as global warming worsens, “the need to reduce the risk of “Wildfires are more critical than ever.”
— with files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press
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