IoT Sensor System for Wildfire Detection; An Investigation of Wildfire Origins and Their Effects on the Environment

Do, Nathan, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
JACQUES, RICHARD, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec/Computer Engr Dept, University of Virginia

Every year, the concern revolving around climate change and the damage its doing to the world becomes more and more pressing. A factor contributing to this problem is the increasingly dangerous wildfires which, in recent years, have ravaged areas of California and Australia. As such, both my technical project and STS research paper are involved in the matter of wildfires – just from a different perspective. While the former suggests and tests a novel way to detect wildfires, the latter discusses wildfires from a more social perspective, and how there needs to similarly be social solutions to this problem in order to completely address all the troubles surrounding wildfires.

More specifically, my technical capstone proposes a novel way to detect wildfires through an Internet-of-Things network, consisting of low-power embedded modules that periodically record temperature and humidity. The idea behind the technical project was that if we could know the humidity and temperature at any point in an area prone to fire, we might be able to detect the problem before it spreads to uncontrollable magnitude. By having sensing units all over such an area, this system would send information to a centralized source, which would allow for a human or an automated system to bring warning to the concern. After thorough circuit design, Amazon Web Service integration, and embedded programming on a microcontroller, a sensing node was successfully created as a proof-of-concept for a reproducible component, made ready to be a part of a system that cheaply and effectively brings notice to the beginnings of a potential wildfire.

My research paper discusses how mitigating wildfires and climate change goes beyond any technical solution. It elaborates on who the actors are within the system that cyclically perpetuates wildfires, and it also describes a general action for change; beyond the contributions of a single individual, there needs to be a greater push to pressure industry actors who have been utilizing fossil fuels and environmentally harmful practices throughout the decades. There must also be a push in pressuring some policy makers, who have been enabling this to happen. Ultimately, if change is wanted, it must be large and it must happen soon. With no urgency and action to stop the trajectory we are on with the increasing frequency of wildfires and our ailing environment, it is only a matter of time that our justifications for contributing to this problem triumphs our ability to reverse it.

As both my project and my research have come to a close, I have come to a better understanding of what I can do as an engineer. The world is more than academic mini-projects and short-answer questions, and what I have worked on and what I have studied in my final year at the University of Virginia has opened my eyes to the potential that comes from actually developing a product and researching the implications of a real world problem. Global warming and wildfires are dangerous. There’s a lot of growing innovation to prevent and mitigate it, and there’s also lot history, policy, and causal connections that these problems have as a result of mankind. However, I’m hopeful that with experience to contribute and analyze something beyond the scope of a school project that I – and people like me – are able to change this earth for the better. I learned what goes into a good design process, and the troubles that come with developing a system as technical and as complex as a distributed network. I learned how to perform thorough testing and debug my errors in both hardware and software. I even learned that solving problems is more than circuits and bits, and while humans have made great developments in the domains of technology, I should not underscore the importance and impact of their actions from a social and anthropological perspective.

I would like to thank Dr. Harry Powell and Dr. Richard Jacques for aiding me in my technical capstone and research paper, respectively. They provided guidance not only in their fields but also in the way of life. I would also like to thank Shreejan Gupta, Tahmid Kazi, Alec Ross, and Bill Yang – the ‘This ButterBeWorth It’ team – for the camaraderie and fun in our quest to create the IoT wildfire detection system.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Internet of Things, Wildfires, Wildland fires, Wireless Sensor Network, Amazon Web Services, ESP8266

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS Advisor: Richard Jacques
Technical Team Members: Shreejan Gupta, Tahmid Kazi, Alec Ross, Bill Yang

Issued Date: