Starting in 1997 and based on space technology know-how, our department has led the development and patenting of the FireWatch system for automated early detection of forest fires. This project was supported by the DLR Technology and Marketing Division. The system was introduced to the market and further developed by our industrial partner IQ wireless GmbH (Berlin) in 2001. Meanwhile FireWatch is one of the most successful technology transfer projects of DLR. The new technology has been awarded the German-Polish Innovation Prize and the DLR Technology Prize.
Up to 10000 km2 of forests are destroyed by fire in Europe every year. Early warning and fast extinction of forest fires are the only way to avoid major casualties and damage to nature. It has been normal practice for trained staff to observe endangered areas. In Germany, several hundred forest observation towers have been erected. The staff worked up to 12 hours per day, usually under difficult circumstances. Different attempts to develop a technical system for this task have failed in the testing phase. FireWatch is based on new concepts of both hard- and software. It is adapted to the specific conditions of densely wooded regions and detects fire via the trail of smoke within less than 10 minutes of it becoming visible.
One system controls an area of about 500 square kilometers. It consists of a rotating high resolution digital camera. Digital images are transmitted to the computer and analyzed. The software recognizes smoke almost in real time by analyzing its typical dynamic and stochastic features. Warnings are automatically passed on to a central monitoring unit, where an operator evaluates them. For this purpose user-optimized software was developed.
Due to the success in Germany foreign forest services have become interested in FireWatch. Installations have been made in several European countries, in Mexico, Kasachstan and the United States. Currently, the systems monitor about 5 million hectares of forest and scrubland around the world.
Firewatch was presented at various exhibitions and has already won several awards. These include the German-Polish Innovation Award (2000), the DLR Innovation Award (2003) and the Hall of Fame Award from the U.S. Space Foundation (2012).
A new project has started in 2012, on behalf of the Department "Technology and Marketing" to further increase the reliability of Firewatch and better adapt the system to the international markets.