Placer County’s school kids' Fire Guard

Early warning system uses internet.



Stand-alone solar cameras and the WWW. That’s the solution for fast detection of forest wildfires. Of course, you say? Well, it took a bunch of Californian primary school kids to figure it out. Now electronics giant Sony has joined their design team. The world may profit, as the climate heats up.


Andrew Wood en Alejandro Vega (both 13) come from a little town, called Meadow Vista. But last December, during the Copenhagen climate conference Bright Green ‘technology’ exhibition, they had their very own corner in the Sony stand. “Amazing”, they keep saying. Yet, the honor was well-earned.


Together with four other class mates, they designed a clever early warning system for forest wildfires during a Lego Toys inventors’ competition in which their school took part.
Their find was not an idle luxury: “Due to the changing climate, almost each and every summer we have raging forest fires threatening our town”, both guys explain. People have to stay inside because of the thick smoke. Or they need to run of be evacuated. Last summer the homes of some of our team only just escaped being burned down.”


“For the Lego pitch we had to invent something that would be really useful for our own community. Straight away we went for something to discover forest wildfires in an earlier stage, and so to keep them from spreading and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.
“What if we put solar driven monitoring cameras on strategic high spots in the forest? And connect them to a website, where everyone can check their continuous images all day? That way, the community itself becomes an online fire watch network. And who’s most often online? Right: the kids!


Open source
Both the Lego jury and Sony Company - one of the competition's sponsors - were thoroughly impressed. Sony helped the Meadow Vista school team install five solar test cameras on the Tahoe Forest hills aroung their town.
Sony’s executive Morgan David proudly shows one of the Fire Guard 'robots', with a 360 degree view CCTV camera in its perspex dome ‘head’. Sony has pledged to put the technical details on an open source on the internet, so everyone around the globe can build a similar protective monitoring tool. Dutch version...


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Photography: © Michel Robles