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RFID on Lookout for Wildfires in China
Qingyuan Forestry is piloting a fire-detection solution that includes ZigBee-based wireless sensors.
Feb 13, 2012—In the Qingyuan Forest, located in southern China's Guangdong Province, a wireless ZigBee-based sensor system—with nodes installed on poles and mounted on treetops—can detect environmental changes in the air and alert park officials in the event of a wildfire. The solution is a pilot of the Early Stage Wildfire Detection and Prediction Wireless Sensor Network system, provided by Insight Robotics Ltd., a Hong Kong startup company founded by researchers at the University of Hong Kong. Insight Robotics developed the system in cooperation with the Qingyuan Forestry and Guangdong Academy of Forestry. The system also includes a thermal imaging camera to seek visual evidence of flames.
Insight Robotics, formerly known as Insight Innovation and Technology Ltd., was founded in 2009 by a group of mechanical, electrical and software engineers from the University of Hong Kong. The company's early work focused on the use of robotic technology not only to detect flames, but also to aid in the rescuing of people from fires using unmanned robotic units.
"We had a focus on using robotics for humanitarian purposes," says Albert Ko, an honorary assistant professor of engineering at the University of Hong Kong and one of Insight Robotics' co-founders. The group is developing search-and-rescue robotics to locate and assist individuals who may be trapped by a fire. In the meantime, however, the company began considering wireless sensor networks that would transmit data letting forestry management know what is occurring in the forest, in real time, before any robotic response was required. In 2009, the group began working with Qingyuan Forestry, which averages at least one wildfire annually, with several such fires burning many square miles of forestland. During a typical year, in fact, fires burn an area of Chinese forests 25 times the size of Hong Kong.
Last December, the forestry staff, working with Insight Robotics, installed a network of 20 to 30 battery-powered wireless sensors across a 24-square-kilometer (9.3-square-mile) area of forest. The furthest separation between nodes was 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), while others were less than 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) apart. (The sensor tags have a maximum read range of 5 kilometers, depending on how clear their line of sight with each other remains.) The team also installed a thermal-imaging camera that searches for anomalies in the forest, such as infrared radiation emitted by flames. The tags, which comply with the ZigBee and ISO 802.15.4 standards, create a mesh network, transmitting back to a server located onsite in the forest, near the thermal imaging camera. The nodes were developed and built in-house by Insight Robotics, Ko says, and were manufactured using antennas supplied by Group Sense.
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