IBM, Microsoft, and Nvidia Pit AI Against Wildfires

In 2018, California experienced its worst wildfire season on
record, with uncontrolled fires causing unprecedented death and
devastation. 2019 saw another difficult season, with millions of
residents experiencing precautionary power shutoffs. With much of
the world self-quarantining and the 2020 fire season looming,
Nvidia’s virtual GTC 2020 hosted a panel highlighting
how AI practitioners are working with forest stewards to bring fire
management into a new, data-enabled era.

Firewatch duty was traditionally served by fire lookouts on
towers overlooking forests, but moving that role into the 21st
century is easier said than done. In order to be truly useful to
first responders in a wildfire, an AI model needs to be able to
detect smoke – not fire – very, very quickly. After all, by the
time a fire is large enough to be easily spotted, it’s typically
less containable, and if the smoke is reported too late to act on
it, the fire will have had substantial time to grow. 

“Every piece of information that can give you a better picture
of what’s going on at that time can make crucial differences in
the decision that you actually use to move forward,” said Kristen
M. Allison, a fire planning management specialist for the U.S.
Forest Service. Still, for many practitioners, analog devices are
still frequently used to communicate and collect data due to large
dead zones of cell services that spread over the forestland that
hosts wildfires. 

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Oliver Peckhma, April 2, 2020