Kenya Forest Services workers use branches to put out a fire at Karura forest in Nairobi.
Efforts to curb forest loss around the world as a means of cutting carbon emissions just got a boost: A Kenyan student has invented a device to automatically detect forest fire outbreaks.
The technology, produced by Pascal Katana, a 24-year-old University of Nairobi engineering student, uses heat sensors to detect a fire, then automatically relays the information to a forest station through mobile phone technology.
“The heat sensors are programmed to detect temperatures which are over 45 degrees Celsius,” said the soft-spoken inventor. “Temperature from the sun does not go beyond this level in terms of heating and that is why it will be easy to tell that a fire could have been ignited.”
In a demonstration at the University of Nairobi, Katana altered sensor levels to detect body temperate and then touched the sensor with his finger. That immediately triggered a call to his mobile phone.
“This is how the system is expected to work,” he said. “Once the forest station receives the alert, the rangers can then marshal reinforcements from the nearby fire station to put out the fire.”
DEVICE WORKS ON SOLAR POWER
The system is suitable in areas where there is no electricity supply because it can be powered by a simple solar panel that generates five volts of energy, he said.
“It is a simple technology because one does not have to be literate to operate it,” the electrical and electronics engineering student said, calling it a “plug and play” device.
The device still has to go through a vetting and trial process before it can be granted patent protection, according to Hussein Said of Kenya’s National Council for Science and Technology. But it may offer significant benefits in Kenya, which suffered widespread forest fires last year as a result of prolonged drought.
“2009 was the worst period for us in terms of fire outbreaks because it was preceded by a prolonged drought,” said Samuel Tokole, an official of the Kenya Wildlife Service, a government agency that protects and conserves the country’s biodiversity, and struggled to find enough resources to cope with last year’s fires.
“What is most frustrating is that I can’t really say we have what we need in terms of technology and equipment to fight forest fires,” he said.
Fires in Kenya last year destroyed 11,370 hectares of bush and forest land. Thirty-five percent of the already heavily deforested Mau Forest Complex was lost to fire, according to Noor Hassan Noor, an administrator in Kenya’s Rift Valley province.
Noor called the new fire reporting device a potentially useful part of Kenya’s effort to keep forest fires in check.
“This is an interesting invention which the government should support given the damage forest fires do to our ecosystems,” he said.