Optus and ANU to throw satellites, drones, and robotics at Australian bushfires

Bushfire program to run until 2024 in the Australian Capital Territory.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The Australian National University (ANU) and Optus announced on Thursday the pair would attempt to develop a national system to detect and extinguish fires using a mixture of satellites, drones, and robotics.

The first step of the program, which is due to run until 2024, will be to create an "autonomous ground-based and aerial fire detection system".

It will begin with the trial of long-range infra-red sensor cameras placed on towers in fire-prone areas in the ACT, which will allow the ACT Rural Fire Service (RFS) to monitor and identify bushfires.

The long-term goal, though, is to put out fires using drones.

"We hope to develop a system that can locate a fire within the first few minutes of ignition and extinguish it soon afterwards," ANU vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said.

"ANU is designing and looking to build highly innovative water gliders with autopilots that will extinguish fires within minutes of them igniting."

By 2022, it is planned that ANU will manage a constellation of satellites, as well as a geo-stationary satellite, to help with fire detection.

See also: Twitter bots and trolls promote conspiracy theories about Australian bushfires

"If we are able to improve the speed and accuracy of fire detection it ultimately means we can improve our response and better protect communities and landscapes," ACT RFS acting chief officer Rohan Scott said.

A joint chair for bushfire research and innovation, as well as a research fund, will also be established at ANU.

Also on Thursday morning, Optus announced it would allow customers to provision eSIMs from the My Optus app without needing a physical Optus SIM at some stage.

"eSIM also eliminates the hassle of having to carry around both a work phone and a personal phone, and when combined with a physical SIM in the one device, provides an enhanced experience allowing customers to make and receive calls from two different mobile numbers from two different carriers, without the need to switch between devices," Optus vice president of TV, content, and product development Clive Dickens said.

"We know that our customers are also looking for new ways to make sustainable, environmentally friendly changes to their everyday lives, and by selecting to activate with digital eSIM, customers can save another bit of plastic from our oceans and another delivery truck on our busy roads."

At the start of September, Telstra announced its customers were able to shift to eSIMs on the My Telstra app without needing to visit a store.

Related Coverage

Editorial standards