Reinventing the fight against wild fires

XPRIZE has launched an ambitious new contest that is focused on finding better ways to detect and fight forest fires. The four-year global competition will award $11 million in prize funding to teams who can develop and demonstrate fully-autonomous capabilities to detect and extinguish wildfires.

“We have been fighting wildfires the same way for decades – it’s not working, and the destruction is getting increasingly worse,” said Peter H. Diamandis, executive chairman of the XPRIZE board. “We need a radical re-invention of how we detect and battle these blazes. The convergence of exponential technologies such as AI, robotics, drones, and sensors offer us the opportunity to detect wildfires at inception, and put them out in minutes before they spread – that’s the mission of this XPRIZE.”

XPRIZE Wildfire has two complementary tracks designed to transform how fires are detected, managed, and fought:

  • In the Space-Based Wildfire Detection & Intelligence track, teams will have one minute to accurately detect all fires across a landscape larger than entire states or countries, and 10 minutes to precisely characterize and report data with the least false positives to fire managers on the ground.
  • In the Autonomous Wildfire Response track, teams will need to monitor at least 1,000 km2, and autonomously suppress a wildfire within 10 minutes of detection. The $1M Lockheed Martin Accurate Detection Intelligence Bonus Prize will be awarded for innovations in accurate and precise detection of wildfires.

“In recent years, we’ve weathered some of the largest and most destructive wildfires in the history of our planet,” said Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, US Fire Administrator with FEMA. “It’s crucial that our federal agencies collaborate with the private sector to spur technology innovation to better support communities and address wildfire more holistically and to provide the firefighters on the frontlines a fighting chance to make a difference.”

At least one company already has developed and deployed the kind of technology that XPRIZE is talking about. Alchera X, founded in 2016, is “an artificial intelligence software as a service (SaaS) company that has developed award-winning proprietary technology in the areas of wildfire detection and SMART-Viewing.”

It uses AI to provide wildfire detection in real time on a 24/7/365 basis and is being used on over 1,000 cameras throughout the western US. It is considered to be the de facto standard in AI for disaster prevention in wildfire management, Alchera X says.

Matt Howard, Unsplash

“Our FireScout technology can detect a plume of smoke in under a minute,” says marketing vice-president Michael Plaksin. “This past year, we did that in over 200 of the 300 wildfires we detected. We give first responders the time, from 22 minutes to over 2 hours, to get to a fire while it’s still manageable and put it out. Our AI capabilities get faster and better every day. We have been saving properties and lives in the US, Korea, and Australia, so we are excited to enter the XPRIZE competition to help expand our technology and services worldwide.”

Research by the Australian National University has found that early fire detection could reduce bushfire costs in Australia by up to $8.2 billion over the next 30 years.

“Every state in Australia experiences extreme bushfires,” said Dr. Karen O’Connor. “We are a vast country and we can’t rely on fires to be detected in plain sight. We need real time space-based detection so firefighters can have information that will enable them to prioritise their resources to suppress these dangerous fires and above all keep communities safe.”

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service is working with Minderoo Foundation and XPRIZE to test the technologies as part of the competition. “Early detection and response are crucial for optimal outcomes in protecting communities,” said Commissioner Rob Rogers. “It is vital that fire agencies continue to assess and adopt new technologies to ensure they are ready for future extreme fire seasons. XPRIZE Wildfire provides a great opportunity to see the exciting future of firefighting.”

Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, president & CEO of ECOS and member of the board of directors of XPRIZE, had first-hand experience of the devastating effect of wildfires after the 2018 disaster at Mati in east Attica that claimed the lives of 102 people and burned 2,500 homes.

“As I met with survivors and heard their harrowing stories, both on the streets and at the distribution center in Nea Makri, I was overcome by the profound gravity of so much pain and loss,” she told Greek Reporter. “Meeting with the children and administrators at the devastated site of the Lyreio orphanage broke my heart. I certainly wanted to do more than help with the cleanup; I wanted to make sure this type of tragedy never happened again.”

Global collaborators from the US Fire Administration/FEMA, the Aspen Institute, NASA, New South Wales Rural Fire Service, the Australian Space Agency, USDA Forest Service, CAL FIRE, the XPRIZE Biodiversity and Conservation Brain Trust, and XPRIZE Wildfire Advisory Board were instrumental in the launch and will have continued involvement over the course of the competition, says XPRIZE.


XPRIZE launches competition to end destructive wildfires. XPRIZE, Apr. 21, 2023

ALCHERA X Participates in the $11M XPRIZE Wildfire Competition Launch. Global NewsWire, Apr. 26, 2023

Greek-Americans Launch $11 Million XPRIZE Initiative to Combat Wildfires. Greek Reporter, Jul. 19, 2023

XPRIZE launches competition to end extreme bushfire events. Minderoo Foundation.

Cover image: Pixabay, Pexels