Consortium develops IoT sensors to detect wildfires

  • February 24, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

A consortium led by UK firms Tethir and Pyreos has won a £0.5m grant to develop IoT sensor networks for faster forest fire detection.

Innovate UK is backing a technology breakthrough that puts Pyreos and Tethir, along with their academic partners Imperial College London and King’s College London, at the forefront of the fight against one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters – wildfires. The grant of £500,000 from Innovate UK supports the development of a widely deployable ultra-low power fire warning system for power companies.

Pyreos supplies integrated digital EzPyro SMD pyroelectric sensor subsystems for gas, flame and analysis applications. Tethir’s expertise is in optoelectronic systems. The department of materials at Imperial College London is known for its pyroelectric detector science. The project benefits from the expertise of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, an institute recognised for its scientific research into wildfires.

The technology is designed for rapid detection of wildfires that occur due to power line failure. These fires are often the most damaging because they typically occur in high winds. In California alone over six years, 1500 wildfires started in the power line corridors of one utility company. Power line operators worldwide face billion dollar liabilities and this scenario has created a $100m market opportunity for detection systems.

Sensors based on visible and thermal imagers have not been adopted at scale because they are expensive, power-hungry and typically only detect wildfires once they have grown to an unstoppable size. By using networks of low cost, low-power infra-red detectors, fires can be detected at long ranges in the first few minutes after ignition.

Wildfires that still occupy less than an acre give fire fighters a chance of extinguishing them before they cause extensive damage. Many wildfires occur in remote areas far from an accessible power supply and telecommunications infrastructure, so low power consumption, reliability and power and comms autonomy are key.

Pyreos has semiconductor-scale processes for supplying low cost detectors worldwide. The company’s experience in industrial and forest fire detection is deployed in its IoT detector range, including cancellation of stray sunlight, heat and other interference.

“This new investment from Innovate UK represents another important step forward for our company,” said John Phair, CTO at Pyreos. “By combining Tethir’s advanced optics with Pyreos’ small, ultra-low power digital pyroelectric sensors, it will be possible to develop and manufacture a wildfire detection system with class-leading detection capabilities.”

Tethir produces non-imaging radiation-collectors (NIRCs) for applications ranging from solar power to laser detection. Tethir’s optics will give a greater detection range using Pyreos detectors, extending the standard detection range of a Pyreos EzPyro TO39 flame detector from 85m non-optimised to about 1.7km. Further detection range increases are planned.

“We’re delighted to work with Pyreos on this development,” said Tethir’s CEO Alex Hudson. “Their extensive fire detection skills combined with their lowest cost detector technology provides the smallest, cheapest ultra-low power detector available.”

Wildfires cause catastrophic damage worldwide, accounting for a fifth of global carbon emissions. The problem, exacerbated by climate change, is deteriorating with many previously unaffected countries now under threat.

Today, severe wildfires – such as those in USA, Australia and Spain – claim hundreds of lives and cause extensive financial damage. In California in 2020, 10,000 fires burned 1.8m ha, or more than 4% of the state’s land area. Costs exceeded $12bn. Meanwhile, over a fifth of China’s landmass is forest and fire is a recognised problem. Northern European countries experienced a 200-times increase in area burned in 2018. Even the normally temperate UK is being badly affected with a blaze raging in February 2021 across a swathe of Dartmoor.

The consortium already has support from a US utility company and is seeking close collaboration with end-users to help optimise the system for deployment worldwide.

Pyreos was formed in 2007 and specialises in miniature, rugged, pyroelectric, mid-infra-red sensors and detectors. The thin-film sensor components detect and analyse composition in gas, flame, food safety and oil applications and enable the creation of smaller, higher-performance IR sensors, sensor modules and analysers.