Building Community Wildfire Resilience with Multifunctional Smart Probes
Accenture Labs partnered with CSAA Insurance to democratize wildfire risk preparation.
The world, as we know it, is burning. Over the past 70 years, nearly 100 million acres have been burned in the United States. More than half of that has occurred in the last 20 years and the size of wildfires continues to grow. To put it in perspective, that’s 11% of the land from Colorado to California. Additionally, this trend isn’t expected to stay contained in the Western US. Studies predict a drastic increase in very large fires across the continental US over the next 5 decades with fire fronts forming in Central and South-Eastern states.
Mitigating Wildfire Risk with Smart Probes
In 2020, Accenture Labs partnered with CSAA Insurance Group to develop technological solutions to tackle the raging wildfire problem across the US and reduce its effects on urban communities. Our mission was to enable the everyday person to create an actively managed and monitored fire-safe space around their home to mitigate the risk of wildfire damage and consequent health hazards in vulnerable localities.
Wildfires are no longer seasonal. Are you prepared?
Here’s how Accenture Labs is innovating for community wildfire preparedness.
As we wrap up the first phase of our collaboration, we are excited to share that our research team has developed a state-of-the-art method for wildfire damage mitigation by pairing IoT-enabled ‘Smart Probes’ with modern strategies like defensible spaces. This approach can supplement official fire warnings for homeowners and individuals by providing fine-grained, real-time, and location-specific data and enabling year-round maintenance and monitoring.
Building defensible spaces is one of the most effective strategies for reducing wildfire-caused damage to homeowners’ property in wildland-urban interfaces (WUIs). The more houses that have these spaces, the less likely any of the houses is to catch fire. However, technology that enables homeowners to better maintain these spaces is currently lacking in the market. To address this challenge, we built a prototype (proof-of-concept demonstrator) of a Smart Probe that allows for precise monitoring and proactive maintenance of defensible spaces through three distinct functionalities:
· Early fire warnings through continuous environmental observation
· Autonomous protection of the homeowner’s property
· Proactive upkeep reminders for the homeowner
How Do Smart Probes Work?
The smart probe is equipped with solar-powered sensors that detect precise environmental parameters and map the air conditions around the home. The probe acts as an early detection device that sounds the alarm and alerts the homeowner when high-risk situations arise, or when ignition is detected nearby. Additionally, sub-soil moisture sensors remind the homeowner to water the land when drought-like conditions are detected and can connect to water sprinkler systems for automated land upkeep. By watering only when needed, the probes enable more efficient water use on a massive scale. To enable autonomous maintenance of defensible spaces, the probes are fitted with dissolvable spikes or ‘nose cones’ that deliver non-toxic moisture-retaining hydrogels to vegetation on the homeowner’s property. Well-hydrated defensible spaces allow fire-wise plants to stay healthy and reduce the risk of vegetation catching on fire. Finally, fire suppressant caps attached to the probe release fire extinguishing chemicals when they contact flames, acting as the first line of defense against ground fire.
Each probe is registered with a LoRaWAN mesh network, a global, decentralized way of sending small amounts of data from IoT devices. This reliable, scalable, and production-grade infrastructure removes the need for additional hardware to transmit data from the probes to the cloud. LoRaWAN connectivity can enable a powerful network of interconnected probes that easily analyze geographically distributed data with near real-time insights through edge intelligence, thereby mitigating data-privacy concerns. It also allows the probes to act as an extension to homeowners’ existing smart home technology and provides an easy path for them to ensure the wellbeing of their property.
The probe is modular and adaptable, and features can be added or removed depending on the needs of the property. For example, in areas further from home, the probe might be fitted with the sensor insert to detect when environmental conditions pose a fire risk. In areas closer to the home or near vegetation, probes might be fitted with the suppressant insert and the hydrogel spike to counteract small fires or droughts.
Evaluating the Smart Probe Prototype
To test the functionality of the prototype, we evaluated its performance in controlled environments. When tested for fire response, the probe sensors demonstrated good accuracy and range, while still being able to fit into a compact form factor. All prototypes showed high levels of agreement across all environmental metrics, providing a solid foundation for analytics. Subsoil hydrogel delivery testing showed that the PVA spikes fully dissolve and disperse the hydrogel within 15 days, retaining moisture over prolonged periods. Finally, the suppressant response test validated that the suppressant was able to extinguish small fires within seconds of contacting the flame.
This project proves that viable fire sensing, monitoring, and proactive maintenance can be done collectively through a singular network-integrated and compact probe device. We envision a world where precise temporal and spatial data collected by networks of these probes is used at the local homeowner level, the larger neighborhood level, and even the state-wide level for fire tracking and prevention. Data collected via homeowners and commercial land managers can be used to reduce fire risk and damage while the collection of larger-scale network data can be used in predictive analytics to promote community wildfire resilience in the future. By enabling homeowners and individuals with tools like the smart probe, we aim to raise awareness around wildfire safety, improve the accuracy of fire prediction systems, and democratize personal wildfire preparation.
To learn more about innovation at Accenture Labs, contact Aditi Maheshwari or Andreea Danielescu.
To learn more about Strategy and Innovation at CSAA, contact Olga Dotter.