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  • Mal McCallion

AI: California's Secret Weapon Against Wildfires

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

California is turning up the heat on wildfires, not with more fire, but with cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI)!

In a bid to spot these destructive events early, video from over 1,000 strategically positioned cameras across the state is being fed into an AI system. This clever machine then alerts first responders when it's time to spring into action.

Just last month, the ALERTCalifornia AI programme proved its worth when it spotted a fire that broke out in the remote Cleveland National Forest. With most people asleep and darkness masking the smoke, it could have easily escalated into a raging wildfire. But thanks to the AI alert, a fire captain was able to mobilise about 60 firefighters, and within 45 minutes, the fire was extinguished.

This innovative platform, developed by the University of California San Diego and DigitalPath, relies on a network of cameras installed by public agencies and power utilities. Each camera can rotate 360 degrees under remote command, providing comprehensive coverage of the state.

While it's still early days for the AI programme, launched on July 10, Cal Fire has already reported instances where the AI alerted fire captains to a fire before any 911 call was made. The hope is that this technology could serve as a model for other states and countries grappling with increasingly devastating wildfires.

The AI system is also a keen learner. Specialists review previously recorded video of what the AI identifies as a fire, then provide a binary yes or no answer to confirm if it was correct. This process has already improved the AI's accuracy in just a few weeks.

But the platform isn't just about spotting fires. It's also collecting vast amounts of additional information, including aerial surveys to quantify vegetation that could fuel future fires and mapping the Earth's surface beneath the canopy. The data, available to private companies or academic researchers, could eventually be used to model fire behaviour and improve unforeseen AI applications for studying the environment.

In the face of extreme climate conditions, California is leveraging technology to make a difference, proving that sometimes, fighting fire with fire isn't the answer - fighting fire with AI is!

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