Drones and AI to monitor and combat wildfires

Blog post
Jukka Sassi

VTT is a partner in the FireMan project funded by the Academy of Finland, which studies flying beyond the visual line of sight and drone swarms, connectivity and real-time provision of wildfire situation awareness with remote sensing. The aim is also to develop a Digital Twin-based decision support system for wildfire management.

The FireMan project aims to find answers to how novel and disruptive Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) can be used for fast, cost-efficient and low-emission detection of wildfires. The UAS solutions also support the creation of situational awareness and the decision-making of fire brigade commanders. At the same time, they can reduce the workload of authorities by automating routine tasks.

Utilising drone swarms and AI to improve situational awareness

In the future, heat sources can be measured with swarms of drones and their thermal infrared cameras. By exchanging position data with each other, the drones will be able to form a monitoring perimeter around the fire and change their shape depending on how the fire behaves. In a tailwind, the drones will stay further away from the blaze and organize themselves into an ellipse rather than a circle to ensure a safe distance from it. The swarm system adapts to the number of drones in operation.

The key point is that the swarm functions without constant control of the operator. Fires can be detected with various optical sensor technologies: visual and thermal infrared cameras are usually used, but multi- and hyperspectral cameras are also possible in certain situations. In the future, miniature cameras could enter the picture.

The swarm intelligence model developed by Fabrice Saffre, Research Professor at VTT, can be used to simulate a wildfire scenario and how the drones monitor the situation – by providing as much information as possible while keeping a safe distance. The simulation can be used to showcase how drone swarms can be utilised in real-life wildfire scenarios in the future, both in Finland and abroad. The semi-autonomous system under development in the project will be demonstrated in Finland in 2024.

Observing controlled burning with drones

Together with Finnish Geospatial Research Institute FGI, VTT took part in a controlled burning test organised by Metsähallitus (the Finnish Forest and Park Service) on lake Paistjärvi in Heinola, Finland on 28 June 2022, where they observed the fires with drones. The controlled burning area was about 8.5 hectares. The controlled burning (only in Finnish) was carried out in collaboration between Metsähallitus Parks & Wildlife Finland and Metsähallitus Forestry Ltd, and it was part of the national Helmi habitats programme, which safeguards Finland’s biodiversity.

Three different drones were used to observe the burning from the air: DJI M210 with a thermal infrared camera; DJI M300 with a visible waveband camera and a LiDAR sensor; and DJI Mini 2, which was used to record the event. VTT's drone pilots were Vasilii Semkin and Jarkko Saarinen.

Filming and editing of the video: Vasilii Semkin, VTT
Photos: Jukka Sassi, VTT

Hannu Karvonen
Hannu Karvonen
Fabrice Saffre
Fabrice Saffre
Research Professor
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