New sensing tool alerts fire responders more quickly

Michigan scientists developed a tool, powered by swaying of trees

MADISON, Wis. -- A group of scientists in Michigan have developed a new tool that notifies forest fire responders of fires before they spread widely. The device is a battery-free sensor that hangs from tree limbs and gets energy from the natural swaying of trees.

This year in the United States, forest fires have been burning out of control in many states, especially in the West. Colorado experienced the two largest forest fires in its history in the past few weeks. The system to detect forest fires in use now involves spotting them from a satellite, plane or fire tower. These are effective, but definitely not as fast as a system of sensors capable of detecting them.

With this new technology, created by Changing Chao with an engineering team at Michigan State University, there is an opportunity to reduce the spread of forest fires in the future. The tool works by using static electricity created when two materials rub together to create a small amount of energy. The movement of swaying trees causes two small cylinders to rub and create static electricity. The sensor is able to detect a fire and send a signal to a larger device up to a mile away, which then sends an alarm to fire responders.

Chao says his team’s device has not been tested over a long period of time, but he hopes to receive funding to build and test more of them. If fire fighters are able to catch fires quickly before they spread, it could lead to lead to fewer and smaller forest fires in the future , saving trees and wildlife in the future.

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