Thursday, 01 October 2020 13:54

Optus, ANU partner to build bushfire detection system Featured

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Optus and the Australian National University (ANU) are working together to develop a national system designed to detect bushfires early and put them out within minutes.

The partnership, announced on Thusday, will see the ANU-Optus Bushfire Research Centre of Excellence undertake advanced research and develop hi-tech solutions to predict, identify and extinguish blazes before they become deadly.

The program will run until 2024 and in the short-term, experts from Optus and ANU will work together to develop an autonomous ground-based and aerial fire detection system.

By 2022, the program proposes launching a constellation of satellites, managed by ANU, to complement the fire detection system, and will look to be augmented by a geostationary satellite to help spot and track fires as well as deploy extinguishing technologies.

The program will investigate how to use existing and new technologies including infra-red cameras, drones, robotics and satellites, and will also harness expertise and research in space, communications, computer vision, sensing systems, defence, data analytics and bushfire science.

Optus and ANU cite the fact that bushfires are expected to cost the nation at least $30 billion over the next three decades, with recent modelling from ANU showing investment in early bushfire detection could save Australia $8.2 billion over the next 30 years.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said: “When it comes to fires, every second counts and there is no point detecting fires quickly if they cannot be extinguished quickly. As we saw this season, these fires can cause massive destruction to our environment, homes and infrastructure and they cost lives.”

“That’s why we are building an integrated defence system to protect Australia from catastrophic fires. This will detect and attack fires before they grow.

“We hope to develop a system that can locate a fire within the first few minutes of ignition and extinguish it soon afterwards. ANU is designing and looking to build highly innovative water gliders with autopilots that will extinguish fires within minutes of them igniting.

“I want to thank Optus for their vision, support and for joining us in this vital mission that will only become more essential as fires become more frequent, larger and deadly.”

Chris Mitchell, Optus Enterprise Managing Director, said Optus Enterprises’ participation was a “natural fit”.

“Partnerships like this combine strengths and resources, including Optus’ leading network and satellite capabilities with ANU’s academic leadership. This is what it’s going to take to make a difference to building our nation’s resilience and capabilities for these catastrophic events.

“We apply innovation to solve issues and improve outcomes, and for communities in areas prone to bushfire, there is no bigger challenge than battling out-of-control fires.

“Our infra-red sensor pilot will be the first of many technologies which tested for early detection, which is absolutely critical to containing disasters before they destroy lives, homes, wildlife and the environment.”

The early stages of the program will see a pilot of infra-red sensor cameras launched in the ACT.

The trial, in partnership with the ACT Rural Fire Service (RFS), will place long-range, infra-red camera systems on towers in bushfire-prone areas in ACT, allowing the ACT RFS to visually monitor and identify bushfires before they become out of control.

ACT Rural Fire Service Acting Chief Officer Rohan Scott said the pilot technology trialled with ANU and Optus, with support from Minderoo Foundation, is “vital and potentially lifesaving work”.

“If we are able to improve the speed and accuracy of fire detection it ultimately means we can improve our response and better protect communities and landscapes,” Acting Chief Officer Scott said.

Optus and ANU say their collaboration is the starting point for a major national network of partners working together to tackle this critical issue, and the network will include the ACT RFS and the ACT Parks and Conservation Service, with other organisations able to join.

The ANU-Optus partnership includes the appointment of a joint Chair for Bushfire Research and Innovation, along with a Research and Innovation fund, with collaboration providing an opportunity for ANU students to learn from real-world experiences, and benefit from employment opportunities, research fellowships and PhD fellowships.


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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