In a future not very far off if Peregian is threatened by horrific walls of flame again, thanks to the geeks working at the council-developed Digital Hub it could well be a case of send in the bots.
Since he watched all hell break loose behind the back of his hi-tech work space almost a year ago, Peregian Digital Hub director Chris Boden has been helping create a centre for bush fire fighting excellence.
The idea for FireTech Connect, which has received $270,000 government funding, is to make Noosa one of the most fire resilient communities in the country. And this is the Hub’s personal payback for the firefighting teams who saved the day.
“I left that late afternoon early evening when the fires were moving towards Peregian Beach and watched kind of in horror I guess over the next 48 hours,” Mr Boden said.
“It got very close to the Hub … it was very scary.
“I have talked to the fire experts and they’re expecting an average fire season this year, but it wouldn’t take too long without rain to dry all this new growth out,” he said.
FireTech aims to help accelerate the adoption of powerful new technologies that hold the key to predicting, preventing, fighting and recovering from bushfire emergencies.
Noosa Mayor Clare Stewart said this will ensure Noosa has access to most advanced and innovative fire prevention and management technologies.
“I think this will be a world first,” she said.
Under the guidance of Mr Boden, Leigh Kelson was appointed in March as entrepreneur in residence to lead the program on FireTech and has built up a cohort of 14 cutting-edge technology companies, a world class mentoring panel and network of fire industry experts and corporate partners.
This cohort includes three local companies, Helitak (aerial suppression system), Fireball International (early detection) and Bia5 (robotic firefighting).
Partners include Cooroy-based McDermott Aviation, Australia’s largest privately owned heli-aviation company.
“They are called on to go an fight fires all around the world,” Mr Boden said.
He said there is also FireFlight which is using drones to undertake very clever mapping of fires, indicating where it is moving and how it’s behaving.
“Now we’re in the bushfire fighting phase, we’ve got some very innovative local rural firefighting brigades like Verrierdale and Doonan,” Mr Boden said.
“One of the Doonan leaders has developed a mobile phone operation that allows for first officers of each of those rural fire brigades to quickly coordinate the volunteers.
“The app allows them to see where they are how far away they are from the fire and who’s available,” Mr Boden said.
Bia5 has developed a robotic firefighting device.
“They are trying to move more humans out of the front line of staring down enormous fires,” Mr Boden said.
“It’s a remote control firefighting mini-tank that has a hose attached to it that can be steered remotely into strategic parts of the fire with suppressants.”
“If we say we want to be a centre of bush fire excellence, that makes a lot of sense. Noosa is very much in the zone where this is an existential threat, it’s arguably a much bigger threat than rising sea levels in the short term,” Mr Boden said.
He said the problem FireTech is trying to solve is how to accelerate this technology on to the market.
“We find there are all these amazing technologies but they are not really being used yet into the response of these fires.
“The emergency response agencies are undertandably very risk averse (trialling new technologies).
“These are life and death situations, the technology needs to be incredibly robust and proven,” Mr Boden said.
Eventually Noosa Council hopes this area has an opportunity to be the headquarters to a growing number of international firefighting companies attracting leading scientists, researchers and technologists.
Months of hard work, mentoring and coordination will culminate in a virtual conference/expo in November where all the FireTech assisted company products and services will be showcased to a network of emergency services agencies and other potential customers from around Australia, the USA and Europe.