US states like California and Oregon are taking proactive measures to prepare electric utility companies for the increasing threat of wildfires. The impact of global warming has resulted in larger and more destructive blazes, putting firefighting services under immense pressure. However, advancements in technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), are providing additional tools to detect and combat these fires.
Pano AI, a San Francisco-based startup, has developed an AI system that acts as a second set of eyes to monitor for fires. The technology employs panoramic cameras that capture real-time images of the surroundings. These images are then analyzed by an algorithm that has been trained to identify signs of fires. Traditionally, this type of work has been done by human eyes, such as bystanders reporting fires or lookouts stationed in towers. The AI system significantly reduces the time it takes to detect flames, providing early detection that can make a difference in controlling wildfires.
Pano AI is one of many startups leveraging technology to aid in wildfire detection and prevention. Engineers in Germany use satellites and thermal imaging sensors to detect wildfires from the sky, while robots in France work alongside human firefighters. In Oregon, drones equipped with infrared cameras assist firefighters in mapping out burning sites during the night.
Wildfires have caused significant economic and human losses globally. Europe alone has suffered an estimated €4.1 billion ($4.43 billion) in damages this year. Climate change, coupled with human infrastructure like power lines, has increased the risks of wildfires. US states like California and Oregon are now mandating electric utility companies to prepare for this growing threat. For instance, Portland General Electric has allocated nearly $51 million for wildfire preparation, including investment in Pano AI’s fire detection intelligence.
While AI technology shows great promise in wildfire detection, Pano AI’s algorithm still requires human verification to ensure accuracy. The startup is continuing to improve its system to distinguish between smoke, dust, and fog. Other companies, like OroraTech in Munich, use infrared imaging sensors installed on satellites to detect and track fires on a global scale.
The use of technology, particularly AI, in wildfire management is growing rapidly, fueled by the need to address historically high levels of wildfires. As climate change worsens and droughts become more frequent, the global risk of catastrophic wildfires is expected to increase. The integration of advanced technology is crucial in combating this growing threat and protecting lives, property, and the environment.