Technology Eye in the sky keeps watch for tell-tale smoke – Keep it clever

Eye in the sky keeps watch for tell-tale smoke – Keep it clever

Catching bushfires earlier could help reduce their devastating effects – and a new video camera could hold the key.

Every summer, Australia holds its collective breath as we move into bushfire season. In hot, dry and windy conditions, a small fire can quickly turn into a large blaze. That’s why those lonely observers are stationed in lookout towers to monitor remote regions for signs of smoke.

Now researchers from the University of Wollongong’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences (EIS) have developed a video camera with even sharper eyes than those solitary watchers. A sophisticated algorithm and software enables a video camera to ‘see’ smoke and provide an alert to remote operators.

The method developed at UOW uses image recognition technology – an emerging field in artificial intelligence – to segment the image and recognise its main features. Based on the physics of smoke formation, the technology is able to separate the smoke from the background.

The team had to overcome a number of technical challenges, including the difficulty of differentiating smoke from other objects based on its visual properties and the need for a device that operates with limited power and computing resources. They’re planning long-term, real-time surveillance tests to confirm that their device can help reduce Australia’s bushfire risk – another compelling reason to keep Australia clever.