On average, more than 100,000 wildfires destroy four to five million acres of land in the US every year.
The state of California, one of America's worse affected US states along with Texas and North Carolina, spent almost $1bn on suppressing wildfires in fiscal year 2017/2018, its most costly year since before the year 2000.
Lisbon-based value-added reseller Compta has been implementing systems to help detect wildfires in their early stages for around six years.
Its home country's emergency services battle wildfires every year. Last August, more than 1,100 firefighters were mobilised to the south coast of Portugal as wildfires raged on for four consecutive days.
"We have been working in wildfires for a long time," Compta's director of international business, Vasco Correia, told CPI.
"The types of organisations we work with are not only the fire protection entities, in California or others, but also industries related to forestry. For instance, the largest paper producer in Latin America is using our systems. Other producers like wood producers; one of the largest in Europe is already using our thermal systems."
Compta's offering, called Bee2FireDetection, claims to automatically detect forest fires while they are still in their early stages, automatically triggering an alarm. Its technology helps firefighters respond to potential wildfires quickly. Compta's solution can cover distances of more than 15 kilometres, supported by a 24-hour run time.
The Portuguese firm claims its technology can detect a fire less than three minutes after it starts. Correia said that only three per cent of wildfires today are detected early.
"This is a huge problem. The first 20 minutes after a fire ignites are absolutely crucial between what can be an easily contained fire and a major wildfire situation.
"The technologies used today such as satellites are not very effective, they take time, are very expensive, so with artificial intelligence we can use regular low-cost cameras and make them smart. We can detect fires as fast as technology will allow us today," he said.
"As long as the surveillance camera is taking videos and captures a frame of a possible fire situation, the alarm immediately triggers. We've been teaching Watson from IBM to detect fire and non-fire situations for more than one year, so we have a huge database from our experience since we have been doing that."
"This changes the game. There are much fewer people sitting behind screens in control rooms because it's not necessary; the system is taking care of spotting those 24 hours a day, continuously."
At this year's IBM PartnerWorld conference in San Francisco, Compta was announced the global winner of the vendor's Watson Build competition [pictured from left to right: Tiago Andrade, board of directors member, Vasco Correia, international business developer, João Matos, director of agriculture and forest solutions]. IBM gives applicants $7,000-worth of Watson and cloud services credits to design and build an AI concept.
Correia said that Compta has now added extra functionality to its wildfire detection solution. Now, its technology not only detects forest fires before they become a problem, but can predict how a fire will evolve and spread, giving firefighters the information they need to control it as soon as possible.
"We are using IBM technology around the back to help feed our algorithms to assess how the fire is going to spread on the terrain. So our technology can recommend the first firefighting measures. It gives that data to the decision makers on how to tackle the fire the best way. As the fire ignites and the system detects it, we are picking up important information on the terrain, vegetation, wind speed, humidity, and we show a map of the fire's active evolution and how fast it will go and immediately recommend how the fire barriers should be posted," he said.
"We are given data to help contain the fire situation."
Compta first decided to enter the Watson Build competition two years ago, when it was first considering adding predictive functionalities to its wildfire solution. The new offering is set for launch through IBM Cloud in Q2 this year.
"Two years ago, Watson was not as accurate as it is today. It was not the right moment to bring it to market as there were some flaws with it at the time. But now we believe it is the right moment to make it real and make it commercially available.
"We tested several technologies, including the competition of IBM - Google and other brands. Watson by far proved to be the most efficient and easiest to work with. It was a no brainer; we've got a long relationship with IBM, their technology seemed to be the best and they've got Watson, IBM Cloud and the IBM Weather Company. So three big components of IBM behind it."
Compta started life 45 years ago. Today the firm employs 250 staff and hit revenues of €29m for its 2017 year, 63 per cent of which derive from services.
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