Enhancing wildfire safety through aerial robotics

In February of 2022, the Innovative Solutions Canada Program awarded a contract to a research and advisory firm called Lux Aerobot. The contract is part of a Transport Canada and National Resources Canada testing stream which works with sellers to test their products and/or services. The goal of the testing stream is to support innovation in Canada's business sector and the federal commitment to help develop innovative goods and/or services by:

  • helping Canadian innovators prepare their pre-commercial goods and services
  • providing Innovators with a chance for the successful use of their new good and/or service.

Lux Aerobot is a space robotics company working on the design, manufacturing and operation of high-altitude balloons (HAPs) for Earth observation. Lux aims to operate a global network of observation HAPs to take 10cm/pixel resolution images, creating a live, high-resolution digital twin of Earth’s surface. Lux is currently making a network of observation HAPs to create the first live spatial information feed, which automates important decisions in wildfire management, ocean surveillance, transport efficiency and sustainable supply chains. HAPs could be used to detect wildfires early for a proper and efficient response.

Lux wants to predict, identify, and address wildfires more effectively and efficiently than what is done now. Presently, there is no set way to find and track active wildfires, assess firefighting, or determine which fires will grow and which ones will die out. Lux hopes to provide a system that will do all of this and more.

Lux’s innovation is a 50kg flying robot made of three stratospheric balloons with a gondola attached to it. This HAP can stay on its programmed path by changing its altitude to follow the wind. Inside the gondola is a camera, which can capture thermal images of the area below. Lux’s edge computer analyzes these images in real-time to find the location of wildfires while they are happening.

This information is then entered into Prometheus, a wildland fire growth simulation model based on the Canadian Forest Service’s Fire Weather Index and Fire Behaviour Prediction subsystems. Using Prometheus, the team at Lux can determine how fires will grow and evolve, so they can figure out which fires need the most firefighting assets.

On the week of August 22, Lux’s HAP was launched near La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and began its journey across the skies over wildfire-prone areas of the prairies. The flying robot will be recovered by the Lux team near Thunder Bay, Ontario in early November. The team at Lux and Transport Canada will then evaluate the HAP’s innovative flight and analysis abilities to determine how to improve the technology.