California firefighters are using artificial intelligence to spot wildfires, feeding video from more than 1,000 cameras strategically placed across the state into a machine that alerts first responders when to mobilise.
In an example of the potential of the ALERTCalifornia AI programme launched last month, a camera spotted a fire that broke out at 3am local time in the remote, scrubby Cleveland National Forest about 80km east of San Diego.
With people asleep and darkness concealing the smoke, it could have spread into a raging wildfire. But AI alerted a fire captain who called in about 60 firefighters including seven engines, two bulldozers, two water tankers and two hand crews. Within 45 minutes the fire was out, the California department of forestry and fire protection (Cal Fire) said.
Developed by engineers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) using AI from DigitalPath, a company based in Chico, California, the platform relies on 1,038 cameras put up by various public agencies and power utilities throughout the state, each one capable of rotating 360 degrees at the command of remote operators.
Since the AI programme began on July 10, Cal Fire provided other examples of AI alerting fire captains to a blaze before a 911 call was made, though it did not yet have a comprehensive report.
Neal Driscoll, a professor of geology and geophysics at UCSD and the principal investigator of ALERTCalifornia, said the sample size so far was too small to draw conclusions.
Cal Fire hopes the technology can one day serve as a model for other states and countries around the world.