$16m innovation challenge to build bushfire resilience

Brandon How

A new $16 million innovation competition co-designed by the Minderoo Foundation has been launched by global not-for-profit XPRIZE to drive development of bushfire detection and rapid response technologies.

The competition will run over four years across two tracks, for autonomous wildfire response and for space-based wildfire detection and intelligence. Teams are able to compete in both tracks simultaneously.

The prize pool will be split equally across the tracks, with US$1 million (AU$1.5 million) reserved for an ‘accurate detection intelligence bonus prize’, for innovation in accurate and precise wildfire detection.

Between 2020 and 2049, bushfires are expected to cost Australia up to $1.2 billion a year in net present value terms, according to researchers at the Australian National University.

The same research estimates, however, that improvements in the early detection of large fires would lead to an overall net benefit of $8.2 billion over the 30 year period.

NSW Rural Fire Service fighting a bushfire in 2018.

Teams competing in the autonomous wildfire response track will “have 10 minutes to autonomously detect and suppress a high-risk fire in a 1,000km2, environmentally challenging area, leaving any decoy fires untouched”. It will feature four rounds over 36-42 months.

Teams competing in the space-based wildfire detection and intelligence track will be given one minute to detect fires across an area larger than a state followed by 10 minutes to “precisely characterise and report data with the least false positives to two ground stations”. It will feature three rounds over 22 months over two rounds.

Technologies developed as a part of the competition will be tested by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, in collaboration with the Minderoo Foundation and XPRIZE.

Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s philanthropic enterprise, the Minderoo Foundation, is the co-designer and sponsor of the space-based wildfire detection and intelligence track.

Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience Initiative Director Adrian Turner called on Australian scientists, engineers, and startups to “solve this local and global problem”.

“Australia is a country of innovators. From the black box, to WiFi, to robotics used for mining and space exploration, to the cochlear implant and more – there is no reason that Australian teams can’t be leaders in applying emerging technologies to solve this global problem that is all too relevant for Australians,” Mr Turner said.

Australia’s chief scientist Dr Cathy Foley highlighted the importance of science and research across a range of technologies in helping mitigate the impacts of bushfires.

“Many Australian communities have experienced the devastating impact of extreme weather events including bushfires in recent years. Natural disasters take an awful toll on lives and livelihoods and cost the Australian economy billions every year,” Dr Foley said.

“Science and research are powerful tools to help communities avoid the worst impacts of bushfires, from innovative building materials and community planning, right through to fire modelling, prediction, tracking and behaviour technologies.

“Australia is at the forefront of many emerging technologies that will help build resilience, but it takes a collaborative approach. I welcome the XPRIZE Wildfire initiative as an example of the private sector looking for ways to accelerate innovation in this field.”

Early registrations cost US$500 (AU$750) while standard registration is US$1,000 (AU$1,500).

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

Leave a Comment

Related stories