An early warning sensor system could help fight bushfires by sending text messages to firefighters and property owners as soon as smoke is detected.

Engineers at Edith Cowan University have developed a device which they claim can detect smoke 50m away, and send warnings via a wireless internet connection or text message.

Dr Iftekhar Ahmad from ECU’s Centre for Communications Engineering Research said the battery or solar-powered device could be strategically placed in bush to protect homes, farms and other important areas and infrastructure.

The system contains palm-sized sensors, equipped with wireless communication technology, which take readings of temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide levels and air contaminants.

Dr Ahmad said the devices could potentially save lives and prevent property damage that bushfires cause each year.

The WA Government is facing a damages claim of potentially millions of dollars for one of the State’s most damaging bushfires in recent years — the South West fires of November 2011.

Prescribed burns by the Department of Environment and Conservation got out of control and residents were evacuated as the fire swept through the region. There was no loss of life, but the effects continue to be felt, with many families still living in rental properties as they wait to rebuild their homes and farms.

Dr Ahmad, Professor Daryoush Habibi and Amro Qandour, who developed the sensor network, are in discussion with a local government in the State’s North West about using the devices to protect remote heritage-listed infrastructure.

“The sensors have the capability to transmit data over long distances, allowing for large geographical areas or remote regions to be covered, ” Dr Ahmad said.

“Our priority is to have this system available for authorities. We hope to work with them to help protect our environment and human life from what can be devastating, and unfortunately, all-too-frequent occurrences.”

The devices are not yet commercially available, though Dr Ahmad believes they will eventually sell for about $50 each.

Dr Ahmad said the sensors were also able to detect ultraviolet indexes and send up-to-date warnings to all mobile phones within a certain radius.

The CCER plans to talk to local governments and surf lifesaving clubs about setting up the devices at beaches to warn beachgoers when the UV index reach extreme levels.

The devices could also be used in homes to identify high levels of potentially fatal gases such as nitrous oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and natural gas.

This could help safeguard residents, particularly the elderly, from faulty heaters and gas stoves.

“We could configure the technology to send a warning directly to fire authorities, or perhaps to a loved one, ” Dr Ahmad said.

The device also has possible use in the multimillion dollar honey industry, by measuring the acoustic signature of beehives, warning beekeepers of any parasites living within a hive.


© The West Australian

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