IFSJ Exclusive: Protecting wildlife from wildfire

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IFSJ speaks to the team behind FireOut, the James Dyson Award Winning wildfire control solution

FireOut is a system designed with an aim to control wildfires in regions suffering from recurring outbreaks to protect life and land by adopting environment-friendly techniques. Earlier this year, the solution, developed by a team of five engineering students from different backgrounds at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, won a national 2022 James Dyson Award.

The team won the equivalent of £5,000 in their local currency as winners of the UAE National prize in the 2022 James Dyson Award, money which will go towards the next development phase of the team’s invention. The competition is an annual student design competition run in different countries around the world by the charity of billionaire British inventor and industrial designer, James Dyson.

IFSJ spoke to the engineering team, comprised of Tasneem Nawar – BEng (Hons) Chemical Engineering, Zahrah Tungekar – BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, Eman Rashid – BEng (Hons) Mechanical and Energy Engineering, Zahid Rehman – BEng (Hons) Automotive Engineering, and Deenah Sabaahat – BEng (Hons) Electrical and Electronic Engineering, to find out more about the system designed to tackle bush fires.

What is FireOut?

FireOut is a system designed with an aim to control wildfires in regions suffering from recurring outbreaks to protect life and land by adopting sustainable techniques.

Why was it developed?

Hearing about the Australian bushfires that broke out in 2019-2020 and the immense damage caused to wildlife and property touched team deeply and served as the main driving factor for the beginnings of FireOut. Its main purpose was to combat the wildfires that cause heavy losses and damage to wildlife and property and add to the environmental degradation.

How does it work?

Upon fire detection by the sensor camera at the main station, the data is transmitted to the control room and the substation at the location of the wildfire over radio modules aided by antennas. At the substation, upon receiving signals, the controllers automatically operate the pump, pumping the collected rainwater from the tower to the sprinklers that use it to bring the fires under control till the first responders arrive.

 After the fire, the pumps can be closed manually or automatically from the control room. These towers that collect rainwater are also equipped with retractable roofs that shut when the towers are at their maximum capacity indicated by the water level sensors that are placed in them.

What was the development process like?

The design was developed after conducting extensive research and backing it up with calculations to ensure smooth function. Various other designs were also discussed and were critically assessed for the issue at hand before completely ruling them out. The design was finalised only after it was deemed feasible for the environment it was to be placed in.

CAD models were made to visualise the layout of the design and stress analysis was carried out on the tower to make sure that it can withstand the pressure of water stored in it for the safety of the surroundings. A scaled down prototype was also made using materials and techniques readily available to test out the idea allowing to see if the design required any further reconsiderations for better functioning.

Do you have any further plans for FireOut?

The team hopes for FireOut to be further researched, developed, and tested in upcoming years in its target locations to make it a reality and serve the better cause of preventing large scale damages and saving life and property.

At the moment, FireOut can only be adopted in regions with wildfire outbreaks that receive high precipitation, but it has the potential to also be adapted in regions with the same challenges but inadequate rainfall by developing alternate design techniques that accommodate to such environments thanks to its flexibility and modularity.

How does it differ from the other solutions on the market?

Most systems devised usually only detect wildfires and wait for first responders to arrive to the scene which causes the fire to spread causing more loss to land and lives. Added to this the first responders often have limited water supply which adds to the time taken to extinguish the fire.

Therefore, with the design having a rainwater storage system along with the sensor camera and a good communication system, large quantities of rainwater can be stored and can be pumped to sprinklers when needed so the extinguishing process can start well before the first responders arrive saving time, life, and land.

Moreover, it can be tricky to reach certain regions of the forest to put off these wildfires which can pose as a threat to the life of first responders. So, building the system can also help control the intensity and spreading of the fire preventing complete obstruction of those regions.

How did the James Dyson Award come about?

The team developed the idea for an academic requirement at Heriot-Watt University which is affiliated to Engineers Without Borders (EWB) UK and Ireland. The team was shortlisted to represent Heriot-Watt University Dubai for the Engineering for People Design Challenge held annually by EWB.  The team then decided to carry on with the journey and participate in the James Dyson Award (JDA) and were crowned to be the National Winners in the UAE.

What did you learn over the course of developing FireOut?

FireOut has helped the team grow as young engineers, learning to collaborate and work seamlessly with various disciplines. The project has enabled and strengthened the mindset of engineering for people, especially keeping a sustainable forefront within decisions. It grew the team’s research, development, and communication skills which all lead to success.

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