The Google.org grantee using AI to detect bushfire risks

Could you share more about the solution you and your team have created to address the bushfires?

Over the past few years, my graduate students and I have developed a mobile weather radar capability with the support of generous industry organizations, including Google. Initially, the radar was used to study severe thunderstorms in southeast Queensland. We then tested the radar’s ability to observe bushfires and their interactions with the atmosphere. With the assistance of the radar’s manufacturer, Furuno Electric Co from Japan, we have now developed the capability to use the radar to identify and monitor meteorological hazards associated with severe bushfires — such as extreme winds, vortices, or burning embers. We are now developing this capacity further by applying artificial intelligence (AI) to near-real-time analysis of the radar data — so we can produce nowcasts of bushfire-related hazards.

I’m glad that through Google.org, we’ve been able to support the University of Queensland along the way. What do you hope to achieve with the new solution?

Our work ultimately aims to provide increased accuracy in forecasting bushfire movements and alerting community members and emergency responders before they spread. The $1 million grant from Google.org will enable our researchers to work on a new capability to identify and forewarn people in locations up to 30 kilometers downwind from the fire front that may come under attack from embers – sometimes in areas previously perceived as safe. Right now, we’re in the process of preparing for our first season of data collection using the mobile radar and have appointed new staff to the project.

From your perspective, how important are partnerships and support from governments, businesses, and communities in developing technology solutions?

Extremely important! We’ve long worked closely with local governments and various other organizations in areas of research and development. There are plenty of opportunities for collaboration and it’s wonderful to hear that Google.org is launching a new fund to support this kind of work across Asia Pacific.

What do you aspire to achieve with this solution in the next 10 years?

We hope to have a new bushfire warning capability that can be applied globally to save lives, businesses, and the environment from the perils of extreme bushfires and their interactions with the atmosphere.

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