Bushfires typically are caused by human activity. However, sometimes wild fires start because of other reasons, such as trees touching powerlines. Now scientists from RMIT have developed a technology, which detects which types of trees and other plants are more likely to cause powerline faults, which may be the cause of huge bushfires.
This technology essentially detects vegetation on high-voltage bare-wire powerlines. It can be used by operators and manufacturers and it would present more useful information to people who are actually working on site. Taking care of the unwanted vegetation around the powerlines would be easier and some bushfires can be prevented. This technology is not actually something that tells workers that there are plants present on the line – instead it identifies species which would cause trouble if plants touched bare powerlines. Scientists say that different species behave differently when touching the wire – not all of them cause such tragic consequences.
Scientists analysed a huge pool of data, collected through the Vegetation Conduction Ignition Testing project, and discovered that there is a pattern. Scientists now can accurately tell, which species would cause the highest risk when touching live powerlines. The technology they created is an algorithm, which, using a machine learning system, can tell with high degree of accuracy if the species in question fall into the pattern that scientists discovered in the project. This is really something simple, yet complex at the same time, because using the algorithm is simple, but it did take a lot of work to come to this point. In fact, scientists behind the project were rewarded first prize of the Vegetation Detection Challenge organised by the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning in Australia.
There was a catastrophic event called Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, Australia. Research showed that many of these bushfires were caused by plants touching bare powerlines. These plants are everywhere, it is impossible to remove them all. However, identifying species that pose the biggest risk is very helpful. Nan Li, one of the scientists behind the algorithm, said: “The development of this research will continue to make communities safer from bushfires. It could potentially be implemented not only around Victoria, but also around Australia or even the world”.
Wild fires are a huge problem every year. As people live closer and closer to big forests it is getting more and more difficult to protect their property. Not only they are the victims of large wild fires, but they are also the cause – their mistakes, accidents and infrastructure often spark the chain of events that lead to huge catastrophic wild fires.