Wireless Sensors and UAVs Could be Ideal for Battling Forest Fires

Researchers at KAUST have identified that pairing ground-based sensors with airborne drones could greatly help firefighters while battling wildfires.

Wireless Sensors and UAVs Could be Ideal to Battle Forest Fires
The combination of drones and wireless Internet of things sensors could dramatically speed up the detection of wildfires, preventing their spread. Image Credit: Nick Fitzhardinge/Moment/Getty Images.

The sensor/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) network could help shorten the amount of time taken to detect wildfires considerably, thereby providing a better chance to contain the fire before it becomes too large to contain.

At present, wildfire detection is carried out using satellite imaging and remote cameras; however, cloudy weather can obstruct these technologies, and fires can grow substantially before they are spotted.

The recent increase in global wildfire frequency and severity demands technologies that can support wildfire management. One option is the use of Internet of things (IoT) sensors that monitor the forest for the first signs of heat and smoke.

Deploying a massive number of low-cost IoT sensors through the forest allows for early wildfire detection at the sensor level.

Osama Bushnaq, PhD Graduate, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

Inexpensive sensors cannot communicate a fire detection event across a massive IoT network to the fire control center as they do not have the battery or computational power.

To guarantee that IoT devices are low cost and have a simple structure, UAVs can be utilized,” added Bushnaq. The UAVs can fly across the forest to wirelessly collect data from each sensor and return to the base to recharge their depleted batteries or report a fire.

UAV-IoT networks are rapidly advancing, allowing for ubiquitous application at declining deployment cost.

Tareq Y. Al-Naffouri, Computer, Electrical, and Mathematical Sciences and Engineering (CEMSE) Division, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

Al-Naffouri and his associates assessed the potential of the technology for wildfire detection by simulating how a wildfire detection IoT/UAV network would perform.

The researchers demonstrated that fire can be detected faster by deploying more UAVs.

However, surprisingly, our analysis shows that increasing IoT devices’ density beyond a threshold does not improve wildfire detection probability,” added Bushnaq.

The capability to monitor the whole forest was compromised as the UAVs had to spend extra time gathering data in each location, beyond a certain sensor density.

Bushnaq noted, “We also show that, given optimal UAVs and IoT device densities, the wildfire can be detected in a much shorter time when compared with satellite imaging.” The UAV-IoT networks covered only smaller areas of the forest when compared to satellite imaging.

UAV-IoT networks will be complementary to satellite imaging. The UAV-IoT network would be particularly suitable for wildfire detection in high-risk regions, such as near human settlements and national parks.

Tareq Y. Al-Naffouri, Computer, Electrical, and Mathematical Sciences and Engineering Division, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

Journal Reference :

Bushnaq, O. M., et al. (2021) The Role of UAV-IoT Networks in Future Wildfire Detection. IEEE Internet of Things Journal. doi.org/10.1109/JIOT.2021.3077593.

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