Robots, AI, or drones are only effective in extinguishing fires when we incorporate vision and expertise
The modern approach to combating forest fires relies heavily on existing technologies that are ready to be implemented in the daily operations of the private sector, science, foresters, firefighters, and other emergency responders. That is why the supplier, 3MON, has become involved in the SILVANUS project, which explores and tackles the efficient prevention and suppression of fires destroying vital forest ecosystems on a global scale.
To gain a clearer understanding, let us envision ourselves in the near future and simulate a typical forest fire scenario. Imagine hiking through a magnificent section of forest on a ridge within a protected nature reserve, on a hot summer’s day, and catching a glimpse of smoke emanating from the base of the ridge. A prolonged period of drought could serve as an indication that the smoke you observe is not merely a result of a family barbecue during a road trip, but rather the onset of a forest fire. As a hiker, you are unaware that there is a large area in the valley that is susceptible to fires, a discovery made through scientific methods and accurately predicted by the Technical University in Zvolen. They considered various parameters such as fuel load, soil characteristics, meteorological forecasts, wind patterns, and numerous other factors.
Therefore, to address this, one of the advanced monitoring cameras provided by 3MON is installed at this high-risk location. Almost simultaneously with your observation of the fire, our camera detected and identified the smoke emanating from the undergrowth. As a vigilant tourist, you promptly send a photo of the smoke along with geolocation data and information about your location in relation to the fire to an application developed and released by experts from the Institute of Informatics of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. By the time your electronic alert reaches the central system, the fire department of the corresponding district is already assessing the camera footage. The same real-time information is also shared with the foresters responsible for overseeing the affected area, as well as other units of the integrated rescue system.
Less than twenty minutes have elapsed since the initial sighting of smoke, and the foresters confirm that the forest fire is rapidly expanding. The fire commander from the district administration at the regional headquarters of the Fire and Rescue Department initiates an emergency response, and fire-fighters promptly navigate their way into the challenging, hard-to-reach terrain as temperatures soar. However, they lack knowledge of the access routes, which can change over time due to forest management activities. Relying on outdated analogue maps would entail significant risks.
Specially trained firefighters operate a swarm of firefighting drones capable of accurately monitoring the extent and precise location of fires. These drones provide a detailed overview of the terrain, identify water sources, and track the movements of firefighters and their equipment. All of these elements are integrated into the technology and software known as GINA, which is supplied to the Slovak market by 3MON. Using this system, the fire commander can adjust the intervention strategy in real time. Each firefighter is equipped with a monitoring device, such as those used by humanitarian organisations when their personnel are operating in hazardous areas.
With this advanced technology, firefighters can quickly reach the fire and water sources, significantly enhancing their ability to contain a spreading forest fire while it is still in its early stages. A helicopter equipped with a Bambi bucket lifts off as firefighters establish ponds and pump water directly towards the fire. However, in a section deemed hazardous for human deployment, a specialized firefighting robot called Colossus is deployed to approach the fire. The robot carries several hundred kilograms of equipment into the field, relieving exhausted firefighters of the burden and conserving their energy for other crucial tasks. In one of the sections, the robot, linked to a fire truck, creates a water curtain to shield the firefighters from the perilous heat. Subsequently, operated via remote control, the robot approaches the critical section of the fire and extinguishes it, utilising a detachable fire nozzle if required. Later, it also monitors the condition of the roots to detect any smouldering, eliminating the necessity for firefighters to be physically present at the location with the most intense fire activity. Fire containment is also facilitated through the utilisation of a special environmentally friendly compound, which is added to the water. This compound possesses the capability of penetrating deep into the soil, reaching the smouldering roots of the trees.
After a relatively short time, the fire is successfully brought under control and ultimately extinguished. Thanks to the comprehensive overview provided by the GINA system, the fire commander had a clear understanding of the situation, resulting in no reported injuries. The prompt extinguishing of the fire also resulted in significant cost savings for the state, as the fire was prevented from spreading and causing potential damages, saving millions of euros.
Modern firefighting training
This scenario could also apply to a forest fire situation in Slovakia. Although Slovakia may not experience forest fires as frequently as southern European regions, the impact of climate change poses a threat, increasing the likelihood of similar situations occurring in the country. This is precisely why 3MON has become a part of the international SILVANUS project, which establishes connections between science, firefighters, foresters, and the private sector. All with the shared goal of enhancing the prevention and suppression of forest fires. The model story above exemplifies the vision that 3MON brings to the table.
This showcases how forest fire fighting could, and in my opinion, should be conducted by harnessing the full potential of modern technology, including the utilisation of artificial intelligence, integrated IT solutions, drones, and robots. When combined with the appropriate vision, scientific knowledge, and dedication of firefighters, foresters, and other units within the integrated rescue system, a more effective and comprehensive approach can be achieved.
During the pilot demonstration of the SILVANUS project, which occurred in the Kyslinky Biosphere Reserve in Poľana from April 24 to 26, modern forest firefighting procedures were successfully tested. The demonstration itself took place on April 25. Indeed, by incorporating modern technology alongside the exceptional expertise of our firefighters, who have showcased their skills in combating forest fires in Greece and elsewhere, we have the potential to safeguard vast hectares of invaluable forest from the devastating impact of fires.
The demonstration took place amidst unusually rainy weather conditions, highlighting the fact that even a significant international project, which 3MON takes pride in being a part of, is not immune to the influence of weather conditions.
I am pleased to acknowledge that the technologies we have supplied to the 3MON project have proven their worth. They would undoubtedly significantly enhance the work of the fire brigade, even during an actual fire incident.