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Intellect

BYU students help create thermal imaging system to detect wildfires early

UTOPIA Fiber has new tech in place in several Utah communities

Traverse Mountain Wildfire
A wildfire burns on Traverse Mountain in Lehi earlier this summer.

As wildfire season heats up in Utah, firefighters are trying to find solutions to deal with one of the hottest and driest summers to date.

Looking for a way to detect wildfires before they rage out of control, a group of BYU students from the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering teamed up with internet connectivity provider UTOPIA Fiber to create a new early-detection tool that could save communities thousands of dollars and, more importantly, lives.

EDWIN, which stands for Early-Detection Wildfire Imaging Network, uses a network of thermal imaging cameras to detect temperature in an environment that may indicate a wildfire. When one of the cameras detects a hotspot — anything exceeding 300 degrees Fahrenheit — an alert is automatically sent through UTOPIA fiber lines to the local fire department.

Thermal camera images.
A test of the thermal camera equipment.

“The EDWIN Project thermal imaging cameras are so advanced, they can detect a hotspot down to a pixel,” explained Roger Timmerman, executive director of UTOPIA Fiber.

Instead of just relying on community members to see smoke and call 911, the new system automatically alerts crews to hotspots before smoke is visible, reducing response time and potential fire damage.

EDWIN is estimated to save between $44,000 and $215,000 in economic loss for each minute of response time that is reduced due to the new system. The system is currently being used in Layton, Murray and Woodland Hills, Utah.

The students involved in the project, all seniors from the information technology and cybersecurity program, first tested the product with the local fire department for Woodland Hills, a heavily forested community in southern Utah County.

After setting up controlled fires, the students were able to measure optimal camera distances and the accuracy of their system. The fire department was notified of the heat signature of each fire, and the fiber network was able to transmit a live video of the burning.

“Being able to build something we know would actually help people and then watching it come to fruition was very fulfilling,” said Ben Dorton, a recently graduated senior who worked on the project. “It was cool to see the real-world impact of what we were building and to talk to people this would have a direct impact on.”

Two of the recently graduated BYU seniors who helped develop the EDWIN Project, Chaz Nelson and Hayden Redford, have since been hired as part of UTOPIA Fiber's Smart Cities team. Both Nelson and Redford are beta testing EDWIN and helping UTOPIA Fiber expand the program to other cities in the west.

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