A village in the south of France is testing the use of AI powered cameras to prevent forest fires and reports successfully stopping eight blazes since June through the technology.
Tourrettes-sur-Loup is on top of a hill north-west of Nice and overlooks vast swaths of forest which has been hit by previous fires. Its mayor volunteered to test the new system with five cameras to help spot fires as they break out.
The cameras, developed by the Polish firm SmokeD, take pictures every five seconds. Using artificial intelligence, they then compare these pictures constantly to detect early signs of forest fires.
If the AI analyses that it has detected smoke it sends an alert to a fire watch centre and provides them with GPS coordinates. Firefighters can then check and visit to address a fire before it has chance to take hold.
Already in use in North America
SmokeD has been exporting its fire detection systems to the US and Canada for several years.
The French company Firebreak is responsible for bringing it to France, Spain, and North Africa.
Like the Firebreak’s two other founders, Julien Lafitte has been a firefighter for over 20 years. “We knew immediately that this could change things,” he said.
“We know the institutions, we know they are slow to adopt new technologies. But we knew [SmokeD] were onto something, it not only saves a lot of time and money but it also just really effective. We all love the forests here, we want to keep them from burning.”
A standard set of five cameras for a full 360 degree coverage over a 15km radius costs around €60,000, depending on existing equipment and the specifics of the area to be covered.
“We have had communes approach us, and also camping sites. No departments or regions yet, but there’s an incentive from the EU, a European Green Fund that can assist in the purchase of our fire detection systems.”
A technology still in development
Like all AI powered systems, SmokeD cameras are a young technology and the AI is still learning and adapting.
To create confidence in the system, Firebreak leased its cameras for free to Tourrettes-sur-Loup for testing.
Mayor Fréderic Pompa, who is also the officer of the local volunteer firefighters, supported their implementation.
“We’ve had fires in Tourrettes, we want to act as quickly as possible,” he said.
Mr Lafitte said that Firebreak and SmokeD were rapidly developing into multinational corporations. He hopes that the system is adopted by other communes and national parks across France and Europe to better protect forests.