Ladera Tech fights against bushfires with first environmentally friendly fire retardant

Brushfire treated with Fortify prevents the fire from spreading (Image credit: Ladera Tech)


Necessity is the mother of invention. Crisis spurs action. Put it together and you’ll find startups. Lot of them. The environmental issues we are facing today are a huge inspiration for many. Here is a selection of such.


Biomaterials company Ladera Tech has joined the effort to fight the Australian bushfires. Founded by a former forestry manager and a Stanford University professor, the two created a material that allows environmentally friendly fire retardant to be sprayed on brush and grasses near roadways. Called Fortify, the material allows the fire retardant to stick to plants to prevent any fires from spreading. Fortify uses an environmentally friendly visco-elastic fluid made from renewable resources making it safe for surrounding vegetation and wildlife.


"We at LaderaTech have been horrified by what we have seen with the Australian bushfires of the past weeks and want to play our part in assisting our friends in Australia by fast-tracking the new technology," said LaderaTech President and CEO, Wes Bolsen. "Fire retardants have traditionally been a tactical resource in fighting actively burning wildfires. FORTIFY™ incorporates new formulation technology developed at Stanford University and exclusively licensed to the company to help prevent the start of fires. It is currently the only product that is safe and effective to use as a preventative brushfire tool."


To help prevent and fight against Australian wildfires, the company recently signed an agreement in Australia to begin rapid production and commercial sales of Fortify. They’ll work with South Australian agriculture supply company Agritrading Pty LTD to manufacture enough of the product to fight against the fires immediately. Other Australian based organizations, such as the South Australian Department of Environment and Water, New South Wales Roads and Maritime, and Australian Gas Networks Pty Ltd, hope to use Fortify for their own applications in the future.



Tech startup DroneSeed replants trees in areas devastated by fires

DroneSeed uses drones to help replant areas ravaged by fires (Image credit: DroneSeed)


Even after fires are extinguished, there’s still the aftermath to deal with. Oftentimes, forests and wild areas require replanting after a fire. Manually replanting trees takes a lot of time, especially in big areas. Rather than replant trees by hand, Seattle startup DroneSeed uses technology to replenish areas affected by fires.


The company uses five huge drones that are designed to quickly replant trees in affected areas, something that could take months to do by hand. Equipped with multispectral camera arrays, six-gallon tanks of herbicide, and proprietary seed dispersal mechanisms, the drones fly over land using lasers and other sensors to find the areas with the best soil for replanting. 


Once an area has been identified, the drones deposit seeds in small nutrient-packed vessels filled with fertilizer and natural pest deterrents, which are tailored to where it’s being planted. To help map and plan the drone’s flightpaths, they use machine learning collecting data and figuring out where to head next.


Currently, DroneSeed is conducting pilot projects in eastern Washington and Oregon, but they hope to expand to California soon.



Tech startup Robotto uses autonomous drones to respond to natural crisis

Robotto’s autonomous drones use AI to measure wildfires (Image credit: Robotto)


Ever since the Australian bushfires broke out late last year, first responders have been rushing to do their best and put them out. In some cases, helicopters have been used to fly overhead to collect data about the location, size and direction of the fires. This can be dangerous and expensive. Jacobo Domingo Gil, COO and co-founder of Robotto, offers a different solution: send autonomous drones instead.


Robotto is a Danish autonomous drone startup that is currently developing an autonomous drone in collaboration with the Danish Emergency Management Agency. The drone will use artificial intelligence for a faster and more accurate way to measure fires. An operator will determine where the drone will go and can even change the angle of the camera using a handheld tablet. Once the drone finds the fire, it can gather data and send it back immediately via 5G.


What makes Robotto stand out from other drones is how it flies like a small plane at 2 to 2.5 kilometers high, which is higher than most commercial drones. Its battery also allows the drone to fly for up to two and a half hours. It sounds promising, but the drones aren’t ready yet. They’ll be ready for launch in summer 2020. Those who want to use them have to take out a subscription at the cost of roughly $110,000 (€100,000) for a week.



Silicon Valley drone startup extends services to help Australian bushfire crisis

DroneDeploy plans to use their aerial mapping technology to help the bushfires in Australia (Image credit: DroneDeploy)


Silicon Valley drone startup DroneDeploy is extending its services to help the bushfire crisis in Australia. The company makes programs that let you turn the footage into maps and collect data from agriculture, construction and oil and gas projects. Using this software, you can see how much damage is done after a natural disaster and analyze any houses or landscapes that may have been affected.


Now, the company will open an office in Australia thanks in part to a large investment from AirTree Ventures. They confirmed that they closed on a Series D capital raise of $35 million led by Bessemer Venture Partners and AirTree Ventures. But now they’re looking to start a new round of funding to help them expand to global markets and help it develop products specifically for the crisis in Australia.


"This latest investment will help us build our new products for customers while developing innovative solutions that are beneficial across a number of Australian industries," said chief executive and co-founder Mike Winn.

This isn’t the first time DroneDeploy has been brought on to help a natural crisis. They’re currently tracking the health of the Great Barrier Reef by mapping coral bleaching with little human interface. They also helped with the California wildfires by performing over 500 drone flights across 16,000 acres as part of the Paradise Fires clean up.


The damage these fires leave is unbelievable, but startups like DroneDeploy are doing their part to provide some relief and the tools to better address the fire in the future.



California startup Zonehaven aims to keep California safer from the wildfires

Zonehaven is a cloud-based service that aims to understand, minimize, and better respond to wildfires (Image credit: Zonehaven)


Australia isn’t the only place that experiences devastating fires. California is often the target of wildfires. In 2018, 1 million acres of land were burned due to fires, and 93 fatalities occurred. Last year, over 240,000 acres of land were burned over 5,600 fires. As fires continue to break out, one San Francisco startup is dedicated to preventing more fires and keeping people safe.


Zonehaven, co-founded by Charlie Crocker last year, is a tech startup that provides a cloud-based application to help communities understand, minimize, and respond to wildfires. With the help of sensors and advanced data analytics along with on-the-ground reporting, they’re developing technology to make evacuations easier, faster, and safer. 


The company works directly with police and fire departments to create evacuations plans that are safe and will avoid creating traffic gridlock. They build a detailed map of the town or city using the technology making sure to take into account roads, structures, and vegetation. It then simulates the spread of the fire, which helps rescue workers with training exercises ensuring they’re better prepared.


Last year, Zonehaven sensors were tested on a small scale in the Easy Bay. Recently, the company released its tech to the county of San Mateo.


“Our real mission right now is making sure we’re prepared to support evacuation next fire season,” said Crocker. “We’re creating an end-to-end process for evacuation — pre-planning and thinking about the neighborhood and how people are going to get out.”



Descartes Labs uses artificial intelligence to detect wildfires

The startup’s new AI system can detect wildfires in roughly 9 minutes (Image credit: Descartes Labs)


Detecting wildfires is no easy task. It often takes hours and relies on reports from civilians, commercial, pilots, and fire agencies. In most cases, by the time the fire has been located, it’s too late. Santa Fe based startup Descartes Labs is hoping to make the reporting process quicker with its new AI fire detection technology.


Last July, the company launched its wildfire detector, which uses satellites and AI to find deadly fires. The detector works by studying images taken from two geostationary satellites, GOES-16 and GOES-17, searching for any changes, such as a shift in thermal infrared data or the presence of smoke, that could hint that a fire has started. The entire process takes about nine minutes, much faster than traditional reporting methods.


To ensure the AI identifies a wildfire and not something else, the team created various different algorithms to erase false alarms, like agricultural burning by farmers, flares from the oil and gas industry, and fireworks. In order to do this, the algorithm has to consider different factors: the locations of oil and gas refineries, where steel and copper mills might be, and where wildfires typically start.


Currently, Descartes Labs is testing its detector by sending alerts to select forestry officials in New Mexico. They report that they’ve found about 6,200 total so far and are able to detect them when they’re about 10 acres in size. The team hopes to give the information they gather to as many fire managers as possible starting in the United States and then expanding across the entire area that GOES East and West cover. With a system that can detect fires quickly and prevent them from spreading, it’s a step in the right direction to reducing the number of wildfires.


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