Startups SensaioTech, OroraTech look to mitigate wildfires with early detection services

Canadian wildfires cost more than $1 billion annually.

A couple of startups think they can help with early wildfire detection, something that may be in demand as our warming climate worsens drought and strong winds across the country, fuelling more dangerous wildfires.

Already, dry conditions in Alberta have ignited an early start to the wildfire season in the prairie province. Alberta declared a state of emergency, and brought in the military to combat the blazes. As of May 11, 82 wildfires burned across the province, with 23 of them out of control, according to news reports.

Based in Toronto and Brazil, SensaioTech claims it can predict where and when a wildfire will occur, and flag at-risk areas up to five days in advance. The startup combines artificial intelligence (AI)- embedded devices, a prediction algorithm, and sensors. SensaioTech officially incorporated in Toronto in April after acceptance into the DMZ incubation program.

Another startup, OroraTech, is partnering with satellite company Spire Global and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to begin preparatory work for a wildlife monitoring satellite. Headquartered in Germany with a Vancouver office, OroraTech uses thermal infrared cameras and AI-algorithms to detect wildfires.

The contract is the initial step towards building CSA’s planned WildFireSat mission, which aims to monitor all active wildfires in Canada from space on a daily basis.

Canada’s peak fire season usually spans 13 weeks starting in late May. Combatting wildfires requires an annual expenditure of approximately $1 billion, with additional indirect expenses that are significantly higher. However, at least one agency noted that the Alberta wildfires are unusually early this year.

To address this environmental hazard and safeguard Canadian lives and jobs, the Canadian government plans to invest $170 million CAD over the next 11 years in a new wildfire monitoring satellite system. This system will provide critical insights to help keep Canadian communities safe by mitigating wildfires and the impacts of wildfire smoke.

WildfireSat will specifically help with infrared observation from space during the late afternoon “peak burn period.” In this most critical time of the day, higher temperatures, lower humidity and strong winds often result in a rapid propagation of wildfires.

SensaioTech CEO and founder João Lopes told BetaKit that his startup has developed AI-embedded devices that gather real-time data from forests. “By leveraging machine learning and AI algorithms in the cloud, along with other data inputs, we can generate heat maps and a risk index,” he said. “These insights are then directly sent as alerts to firefighters, conservation teams, and our customers.”

SensaioTech began in 2017 and released the first version of its product in 2019. Currently, the company has four employees, but Lopes hopes a successful funding round will enable the team to expand. Lopes said the startup is currently in the process of securing funding, but until now SensaioTech’s operations have been bootstrapped.

The startup claims to be in negotiations with foreign countries for its technology, and is actively seeking new clients in Canada. “Additionally, we have completed pilot projects with some of the largest forestry companies in Brazil,” Lopes said.

“Canada is the first country investing in a dedicated solution for Wildfire monitoring from Space,” said Axel Roenneke, chief commercial officer of OroraTech. “Our system will help reduce Carbon emissions and improve air quality—with an economic impact of billions of dollars every year.”

Feature image courtesy Unsplash. Photo by Matt Palmer.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.

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