$70 million ‘bushfire moonshot’ aims to fireproof Australia

By on 16 September, 2020

Image: CSIRO.

Satellites, sensors drones and AI could automate bushfire response in an aspirational vision.

An ambitious technology-led plan to transform Australia’s fire detection and response capability has been launched in Canberra by the Minderoo Foundation, mining billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s philanthropic organisation.

The ‘Fire Shield mission’ was launched at the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday by Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews and Adrian Turner, former head of CSIRO’s Data61 and CEO of Minderoo’s Fire and Flood Resilience Initiative.

In introducing the project, Mr. Turner outlined an ambition of capability to detect and extinguish blazes anywhere on the continent by 2025, suggesting the plan could be ‘Australia’s very own Apollo Mission’.

“In 1962 President John F. Kennedy dared Americans to dream of a man stepping foot on the moon. JFK boldly set a task to go where no-one had gone before. But they made it happen,” he said.

“JFK set the target of a decade –we’re setting a target of less than five years to deliver generational change. We’ve studied the system breaks across fire, landscapes and communities and believe that when they’re resolved the outcome will be generational change, lifting Australia to be the world’s fire and flood resilience leader by 2025.”

Tuesday’s ‘Moonshot’ announcement follows the NSW government’s partnership in the Minderoo-led 2020 Bushfire Data Quest in August, and contains a coalition of over 50 corporate partners and scientific organisations, which were not individually named in the announcement.

“We are determined to radically change the way we predict, detect, monitor and respond to fire, in collaboration with communities, government agencies and emergency services,” Mr. Turner said.

“The Fire Shield Mission applies a strong evidence base, and first order problem solving principles, to accelerate the use of technologies such as automated monitoring cameras, drones, satellite technology, remote sensing and machine learning to rapidly detect and respond to
bushfires.”

The mission is already working with agencies across Australia and is supported by a $70 million grant from Minderoo, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Whilst public information on the mission’s proposed operational and technical details is scant, findings of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry show that the scope for improvement is vast, and such detail is perhaps secondary to support for implementation of cutting-edge technology and a systems-thinking approach to bushfire response in Australia.

James Jin Kang, lecturer in Computing and Security at Edith Cowan University, has theorised on the implementation of Fire Shield over at The Conversation.

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