New app can help grey nomads play their part in reducing bushfire risk

Published: November 23, 2023

An ingenious new mobile app, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), could help grey nomads play a part in preventing devastating bushfires.

The app, Noburn, has been developed by University of Adelaide experts and will enable users to snap a photograph on a bushwalk or while on a stop in a rural area.

The information in these images could then be used to help predict the dangers of a potential blaze in the area.

Professor Javen Shi, Director of Advanced Reasoning and Learning at the University’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML), said the AI models developed for the app mimic the eyes of human experts who would ordinarily be scouring bushland for bushfire hazards.

“The app’s AI computer vision can analyse user-submitted photos of fire-prone areas to assess potential bushfire fuel loads,” he said. “The submitted data is then used to estimate the severity of a potential bushfire and how far it’s likely to spread.”

Professor Shi said the app would also raise awareness for the ways investment in AI can help prevent devastating losses during bushfires.

“Once we train the model, we don’t really need experts to go to the forest,” Professor Shi said. “We can easily have thousands of citizens – such as bushwalkers and families on camping trips – who can take photos that our AI can use to make predictions.”

Collecting quality data from users of Noburn could take up to 12 months, and another year for the app’s AI model to be trained on the images uploaded from rural areas.

“The app alone is small, but we hope this is a catalyst to ignite people’s excitement and hope, because we lose millions of dollars every year to fires,” Professor Shi said. “We hope to expand this to situational awareness, like a command centre for the bushfire commanders, and they can see in real time their resource deployment, how a bushfire spreads, and we can build AI for them to interact with.”

The idea for the app was sparked after the Black Summer bushfire season in 2019- 2020, which burned more than 46 million acres, and claimed 34 lives.

Noburn is free to download and use for both Apple and Android phones.

  • Would you use this app? Comment below.

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On the surface this would appear to be a good if not great idea.
If the “Fire Services” had an accurate map of zones prone suffer catastrophic fires, well in advance of the fire seasons, more could be done to prevent them.
This would be all in vain if the NPWS and Greenies prevent burning off.

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