XPRIZE, the world’s leader in designing and operating incentive competitions to solve humanity’s grand challenges, has launched XPRIZE Wildfire, a four-year competition that will award A$16 million to competing teams that will innovate firefighting technologies and end destructive bushfires.
Extreme bushfires are increasing in number and severity in Australia and globally causing devastating effects on lives, livelihoods and landscapes. The Black Summer bushfires doubled Australia’s carbon emissions and researchers estimate1 it could take 20 years for the atmosphere to reabsorb the carbon.
In addition, 33 people tragically lost their lives. 450 people have since died due to smoke related illness2 and many more still experience mental health issues today. 35 million hectares burned and 3 billion animals perished. Despite these enormous ongoing impacts, fire management technologies have not evolved in decades and best practices have not changed in almost a century.
“We have been fighting wildfires the same way for decades – it’s not working, and the destruction is getting increasingly worse. We need a radical re-invention of how we detect and battle these blazes,” said Peter H. Diamandis, Executive Chairman of the Board, XPRIZE. “The convergence of exponential technologies such as AI, robotics, drones, and sensors offer us the opportunity to detect wildfires at inception, and put them out in minutes before they spread – that’s the mission of this XPRIZE.”
XPRIZE Wildfire aims to unearth new technologies that will improve detection, monitoring and swift suppression of dangerous bushfires, ultimately aiming to prevent another Black Summer witnessed in Australia in 2019-20.
“We are calling on Australian scientists, engineers and startups specialising in robotics, autonomous systems, earth observation, AI, sensors, satellite communications and related fields to enter this competition to solve this local and global problem,” said Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative lead, Adrian Turner.
“Australia is a country of innovators. From the black box, to Wi-Fi, 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.”
XPRIZE Wildfire will incentivise teams from around the world to innovate across a wide range of technologies in two complementary tracks designed to transform how fires are detected, managed and fought.
The Lockheed Martin Accurate Detection & Intelligence Bonus Prize will be awarded for innovations in accurate and precise detection of wildfires.
Research by the Australian National University3 has found that early fire detection could reduce bushfire costs in Australia by up to $8.2 billion over the next 30 years.
Dr Karen O’Connor, Fire Shield Mission lead, Minderoo Foundation Fire and Flood Resilience initiative said, “Every state in Australia experiences extreme bushfires. We are a vast country and we can’t rely on fires to be detected in plain sight. We need real time space-based detection so firefighters can have information that will enable them to prioritise their resources to suppress these dangerous fires and above all keep communities safe.”
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service is working with Minderoo Foundation and XPRIZE to test the technologies as part of the competition. Rob Rogers, NSW RFS Commissioner said, “Early detection and response are crucial for optimal outcomes in protecting communities. It is vital that fire agencies continue to assess and adopt new technologies to ensure they are ready for future extreme fire seasons. XPRIZE Wildfire provides a great opportunity to see the exciting future of firefighting.”
XPRIZE Wildfire is offered in partnership with Co-Title Sponsors Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Presenting Sponsor Minderoo Foundation, Bonus Prize Sponsor Lockheed Martin and Supporting Sponsors Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and benefactors Nichola Eliovits and Michael Antonov.
Global collaborators from the U.S. Fire Administration / FEMA, the Aspen Institute, NASA, New South Wales Rural Fire Service, the Australian Space Agency, USDA Forest Service, the XPRIZE Biodiversity and Conservation Brain Trust, and XPRIZE Wildfire Advisory Board were instrumental in the launch of XPRIZE Wildfire and will have continued involvement over the course of the competition.
Quotes from Australia’s Chief Scientist and Fire Agencies
Dr Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist
“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.
“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.”
Rob Webb, CEO, Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Council (AFAC)
“As our fire seasons get longer and stronger, firefighters will need every tool possible to help keep our communities safe.
“Innovation will accelerate our path to new capabilities and using remote sensing to detect and diagnose fires as early as possible could make the difference.
“We look with great interest as the next generation of fire detection unfolds before us.”
ACT – Rohan Scott AFSM, Chief Officer ACT Rural Fire Service (ACT RFS)
“The early detection of dangerous fires is critical to minimising impacts on our people, our land, and the environment. The benefits will be seen in the suppression of fires, but also right through to timely community notifications, warnings and alerts.
“Accurately understanding the location and scale of an incident in near real-time supports better resourcing, and ultimately minimises the imposition on volunteers and their families, all of whom give up valuable time to keep their communities safe.”
VIC – Jason Heffernan, Chief Officer, Country Fire Authority (CFA)
”We welcome advances in science and innovation that result in a reduction in time between fires starting and having our resources suppress them. Initial attack is a critical phase to keep fires small in order to prevent negative community consequences.”
QLD – Greg Leach, Commissioner, Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (QFES)
“We recognise the challenges associated with intensifying fire seasons and conditions, and we are always looking at whatever ways we can improve our firefighting capabilities.
“Part of this is acknowledging the importance of innovation, technology and modern systems that assist fire services everywhere to keep their communities safe, and XPRIZE Wildfire provides an exciting look at what the future of firefighting can be.”
TAS – Dermont Barry, Chief Officer Tasmania Fire Service (TFS)
“The impact from bushfires can be significant and enduring, and in the face of climate change this risk continues to rise. Indeed, the widespread and permanent destruction to Tasmanian’s communities and world heritage area in 2016 is a poignant example of this risk and the challenges faced by fire agencies.
“The early fire detection and monitoring provided by space-based technologies will significantly enhance our intelligence capabilities, improving our ability to protect people, property, and those natural and cultural values of universal significance.”
SA – Brett Loughlin, Chief Officer South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS)
“Australia’s changing climate, increasing exposure to natural hazards and increasing expectations of the role of Government in managing emergencies is placing higher levels of expectation on the South Australian Country Fire Service and other emergency services to protect communities and manage major emergencies and disasters.
“The SACFS expects the coming fire seasons will test the capacity and capability of fire services, to be able to respond earlier to an event will go a long way to mitigating the risks the future pose.”
NSW – Jeremy Fewtrell, Commissioner, Fire and Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW)
“Fire and Rescue NSW enthusiastically embraces new technology to improve firefighting and emergency response efforts.
“We are very proud of our current ‘Connected Firefighter’ program that’s introducing terrific new communications advancements across our business.
“We encourage and support the innovators participating in the XPRIZE Wildfire competition and eagerly await their fresh concepts and ideas.”
Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.