An AI-powered eye in the sky is helping firefighters control woodland blazes.

What’s new: California used maps drawn by neural networks to fight fires that threatened Yosemite National Park earlier this year, according to Wired. CalFire, the state’s firefighting agency, hopes the technology will help it better track wildfires, which can move quickly and erratically in windswept, mountainous terrain.

How it works: U.S. military drones provide California with aerial imagery that human analysts use to map fire perimeters. But that process can take hours. The Pentagon’s Joint AI Center hired San Francisco startup CrowdAI to build a model that converts flyover videos into wildfire maps in less than 30 minutes. CalFire plans to make the maps available to firefighters through a mobile app.

  • The system trained on infrared videos from MQ-9 Reaper drones. Human annotators had labeled and geotagged fires in their frames.
  • CrowdAI used a proprietary image segmentation model to outline a fire’s extent, the company’s chief executive Devaki Raj told The Batch.
  • Human analysts check the model’s output before passing it along to firefighters.

Behind the news: A number of teams are working on AI systems designed to mitigate the impact of natural disasters.

  • AI for Digital Response analyzes text and photos in Twitter to identify damaged infrastructure, calls for aid, and other relief-related topics. The platform has been used to evaluate damage of earthquakes and hurricanes, but it has yet to be used to respond to a crisis in real time.
  • Disaster modeling startup One Concern, which uses AI to predict earthquake damage, works with several local U.S. governments and international financial institutions. However, critics have raised concerns about the system’s accuracy in predicting earthquake damage.
  • NeurIPS 2020 will host a December workshop to bring together machine learning engineers and first responders.

Why it matters: Wildfires move fast, and maps that are even a few hours out of date can put people and property at risk. As climate change makes wildfires more frequent and more destructive, firefighters need tools that will help them combat blazes quickly and efficiently.

We’re thinking: DeepLearning.AI’s team in California has been experiencing the fallout from forest fires firsthand. We’re eager to see AI play a bigger role in disaster relief.


Subscribe to The Batch

Stay updated with weekly AI News and Insights delivered to your inbox