Feature Story | 8-May-2023

Safeforest project introduces an innovative robotic system to revolutionize forest wildfire prevention

Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program

The Safeforest project, a CMU Portugal Large Scale Collaborative Project,  hosted a final Workshop on May 4th at the Instituto de Sistemas e Robótica da Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal. The event brought together members of the consortia and a diverse  audience to showcase the project's closing remarks and successful results.

The primary objective of the three-year project developed under the CMU Portugal Program, is to revolutionize forest wildfire prevention by developing an advanced robotic system to overcome wildland and wildland-urban interface fires. 

In 2022, Europe faced the second worst year in terms of burned area and number of forest fires since 2006, with Portugal reaching the third worst record in the European Union, according to data from the European Commission. According to the Portuguese Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF), there were 2,454 rural fires that caused 7,604 hectares, the equivalent of three-quarters of the surface of the municipality of Lisbon.

In order to contribute to the decrease of these numbers and overcome the flaws of the existing systems, the Safeforest project consortium led by the company Ingeniarius, in partnership with SILVAPORADAI (Associação para o Desenvolvimento da Aerodinâmica Industrial), ISR from Universidade de Coimbra and CMU (Carnegie Mellon University), developed a robotic system that allows the mapping of forest areas and to implement cleaning missions, to reduce the risk of forest fires and the associated costs. 

The robotic system will focus on creating wide protection corridors used as fuel barriers to control and reduce the spread of large forest fires thanks to SCOUT, a drone designed to perform the mapping of the terrain and the identification of the forest areas to be cleared and RANGER, a semi-autonomous mobile platform consisting of a compact track loader with a sensor toolkit installed, capable of removing excess vegetation.

According to Micael Couceiro, Ingeniarius CEO, “the development of these two semi-autonomous robots has significantly enhanced land clearing missions compared to traditional methods. The software designed for terrain and vegetation mapping, along with the platform for managing and visualizing the collected data, have been instrumental in enabling more effective clearing missions."

By employing these mobile robots, it is possible to remove redundant vegetation efficiently and safely, reducing the risk of forest wildfires. Moreover, the ability for robots to navigate semi-autonomously reduces hazards for human operators, minimizes the environmental impact of land clearing by reducing, for example, the use of herbicides, and improves the adaptability to different types of terrain and weather conditions.

However, as noted by Micael Couceiro “While the Safeforest project has achieved significant results, there is still further work required to make the solution commercially viable. In particular, we need to improve the integration  between perception and action of robots, enabling  them to operate more effectively in complex and dynamic environments, such as those found in forests.”

The Safeforest Project – Semi-Autonomous Robotic System for Forest Cleaning and Fire Prevention (CENTRO-01-0247-FEDER-045931) - is co-financed by FEDER, COMPETE 2020, by the CENTRO2020 Program and by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) under the CMU Portugal Program.

More about the project here. 


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