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Students Envision App to Combat Wildfires


By Mandy Carr, NYAS Staff

There’s an app for just about everything, and a group of students who were finalists in The Junior Academy’s Wildfires: Tracking, Prevention, and Containment Challenge, believe there should be an app for tracking wildfires.

Lara Louise Bevan-Shiraz, (14), Johns Hopkins Centre for Talented Youth, Denpasar, Indonesia; Shivani Gollapudi, (16), Independence High School, Frisco, Texas; Joshua Rosenberg, (17), William Lyon Mackenzie CI, Toronto, Ontario; and Raghav T. Kesari, (18), Excel Public School, Mysore, India, created a versatile app capable of combining drone mapping with data analysis to prevent and detect wildfires, as well as guide firefighters and communities on how to best manage them.

The students created a “wild idea bucket” and asked “how might we” questions using the web-based application and the mobile texting app, WhatsApp for their discussions.

The students surveyed firefighters and wildfire experts and brainstormed different cost-effective approaches, like partnering with weather drones or using CubeSats, a miniature satellite used for space research. The team’s solution is still theoretical, but it includes drones with infrared cameras that monitor areas at risk and detects fires within seconds. The drones send real-time data to a Heads-up Display that they envision for firefighter helmets, fire engines and on mobile phones. It also helps residents evacuate. “If we have an early detection system that can rapidly detect even the smallest of wildfires, firefighters would be able to contain them faster, and the amount of land burned would decrease,” said Shivani.

During their research process, the team discovered that
Carlton Pennypacker, at the University of California, Berkeley, was researching drone use and wildfires, and they reached out to him. He graciously offered his time and guided them during their project. “The students are very bright, very motivated and very capable.  And they are interested in a project I am working on,” said Dr. Pennypacker.

The team is continuing to collaborate with Dr. Pennypacker, and hope to launch a pilot in the boreal peatland forests in British Columbia during the next fire season. “We really hope to get the pilot started,” said Joshua. “We are truly passionate about this issue and believe in our solution.”