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Home-grown aerial mapping and intel system to support fire recovery

Stephen Kuper

Real-time maps of the Kangaroo Island fire front created through innovative new technologies developed by SA company FireFlight and deployed in support of the Australian Army have been a boon to relief and recovery operations teams on the ground in KI.

Home-grown aerial mapping and intel system to support fire recovery
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FireFlight’s aerial mapping system was deployed in a single engine Piper aircraft flown over fires at 10,000 feet, and the images taken were used by members of the Australian Army to plan and execute recovery and relief operations, in support of emergency services and local communities.

Thanks to specialist thermal imaging cameras, high precision GPS and advanced data processing software, FireFlight’s fire mapping system can provide real-time maps of wildfires as well as details of post-fire hotspots, underpinning a strategic and efficient plan to fight fires and aid recovery.

Founder and CEO of FireFlight, Dr Paul Dare, began developing the fire mapping technology 15 years ago, and has commercialised it after participating in the Venture Catalyst Space program at UniSA’s Innovation & Collaboration Centre.

"During my time as a volunteer firefighter, I could see the impact that climate change was having on the frequency and severity of bushfires in Australia and overseas, which is when I decided to use my skills as an airborne imaging specialist, to develop a fire mapping system," Dr Dare said. 

Associate director of the ICC, Jasmine Vreugdenburg, said she is pleased to see FireFlight make such a strong and valuable contribution during the bushfire emergency.

"Commercialising business ideas that use technology to solve real world problems is a core function of the ICC, and we’re really proud to see that FireFlight has and is making a significant impact on our capacity to fight fires and recover from them," Vreugdenburg explained. 

Vreugdenburg added, "The Venture Catalyst Space program provides invaluable support to get concepts project ready and connections to key industry partners, which is critical to helping companies such as FireFlight to develop products and go to market with their technology."

The FireFlight system is cheap to deploy and easy to use. FireFlight systems are shipped from Australia and operated by local pilots in fire danger regions worldwide.

The FireFlight system uses thermal sensors connected to a GPS and computer, and mounted in light aircraft. The flight management software that ties the system together provides pilot navigation, camera control, data communication and real-time image interpretation.

Software on its ground-based servers receives the fire maps from the aircraft, combines them with other useful geographic information, and makes the result available on a secure website.

The traditional approach to fire mapping is to have a small number of high value assets: large aircraft with imaging systems worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

FireFlight operates multiple low-cost fire mapping systems, geographically spread over a wide area, which can be more effective than a few expensive fire mapping systems with limited geographical coverage. And by having many more systems available, the impact of system or aircraft failures is greatly reduced.

Established in 2015, the Innovation & Collaboration Centre is the University of South Australia’s start-up incubator headquartered in Adelaide with a regional centre in Whyalla.

Enabled by world-class tech resources, programs and tools, the centre supports enterprises from idea generation to concept development, through to market validation, testing and commercialisation.

The ICC provides access to a wide range of expertise in a multidisciplinary environment, backed by industry-focused education and training to develop founders and grow businesses.

The ICC is currently seeking applications for space incubator program Venture Catalyst Space, supported by the South Australian Space Industry Centre.

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