Forest biomass from space

‘Ultra-early’ wildfire detection network installed in Spanish forests

Image credit: Foto 103699254 © Marcel Poncu |

A collaboration between mobile network Vodafone and Berlin-based environmental IoT startup Dryad will see the latter bring its wireless environmental sensor network to Spain, supporting the ‘ultra-early’ detection of wildfires across the country.

Dryad Networks has developed a wireless network of environmental, solar-powered gas sensors, based on the open standard for long-range IoT networks. Its distributed architecture enables large-scale deployment in areas without network coverage and the data collected on the network is processed by machine-learning tools embedded within the sensor and cloud-based data tools for analysis, monitoring and alerting.

Dryad’s wireless sensor network will operate deep within forest environments, where the impacts of climate change are more difficult to monitor. The installation is intended to reduce the percentage of area devastated by fire, which according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) rose in Spain to almost 310,000 hectares in the last year.

With its deep experience in IoT technology - connecting an estimated 155 million devices and platforms across 39 countries - Vodafone will provide the communications infrastructure to support Dryad’s wireless network, Silvanet.

Silvanet has been designed to adapt to any type of forest environment, which is crucial given that Spain’s forest ecosystems occupy over twenty-six million hectares, of which almost fifteen million are wooded (representing 29 per cent of the national territory).

The network uses artificial intelligence embedded in the gas sensors to learn and identify the different ‘smells’ of a forest. This enables the sensors to detect a fire in its early smouldering stages when the fire is still easy to put out. The system can also operate in wooded areas without network coverage.

As a result, the partnership between Dryad and Vodafone will enable a large-scale deployment of this technology across Spain’s forested areas to complement existing camera and satellite-based detection systems. This could drastically reduce wildfire detection times and make tackling fires in the country easier.

The collaboration will enable an immediate response to fire incidents with wildfires detected within minutes and alerts sent directly to the appropriate firefighting resource. The system will be based on an IoT deployment using three elements:

  • Solar-powered gas sensors, which are installed in trees and can detect a fire during the smouldering stage.
  • Mesh gateways with broad-spectrum modulation technology, to give "coverage" to gas sensors and aggregate data from deployed sensors.
  • Monitoring and communications systems with connectivity, which collate the information collected and send it to the cloud that manages the monitoring system.

“We are very pleased to be working with Vodafone to bring our wildfire detection technology to Spain, a country that suffers greatly from forest fires,” said Carsten Brinkschulte, CEO and co-founder of Dryad. “Our Silvanet solution represents a breakthrough in wildfire detection due to its ability to detect fires within minutes and we look forward to further deployments in the region.”

Daniel Barallat, director of IoT at Vodafone Spain, said: "Our cloud-based IoT solutions are world leaders for their detection and communication capabilities and help optimise the cost of firefighting, minimising wildfires’ impact on forest areas and helping to protect thousands of lives and preserve natural ecosystems".

Dryad’s technology uses solar-powered gas sensors in a large-scale IoT sensor network to reduce unwanted wildfires. Such events are causing up to 20 per cent of CO2 emissions globally and have a devastating impact on biodiversity in every region. By dramatically reducing reaction times for wildfires, Dryad aims to prevent 3.9m hectares of forest from burning, preventing 1.7bn tons of CO2 emissions by 2030.

In 2021, research by a team from Cambridge University concluded that repeated fires dampen forests’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide, with recurring fire incidents shown to drive long-term changes to tree communities and reduce their population sizes and the associated carbon stored within.

Technology is coming to the aid of the world's forests in a variety of ways, such as the drones developed by researchers at Imperial College London. The special drones can attach sensors to trees to monitor any environmental and ecological changes in cluttered forests, also helping to monitor and detect forest fires.

In 2019 - following a scorching annus horribilis for the world’s beleaguered forests in 2018 - E&T asked if the situation was genuinely getting worse, with the warming planet blamed for the ‘mega fires’ which had raged with an intensity fire crews said they’d never seen before.

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