Proposed Prize Design Structure

XPRIZEXPRIZE Los Angeles, CaliforniaPosts: 192 admin
edited January 2020 in Archive
We are interested in focusing a prize specifically on wildfire suppression. In light of the increasing risk to lives and assets, the focus is on suppression of Wildland-Urban Interface fires, before these escalate into large fire events that put communities at risk. Here is an initial description of a proposed prize. In the other topics in the community, you’ll find different categories of feedback we would love to get on this design.

We understand that a prize designed in this way may result in a different approach or paradigm for firefighting, and we invite you to explore—for example, with faster detection and response, can fires be extinguished without traditional containment and control strategies?

The Proposed Prize: We are proposing a prize that works something like the following: Teams are invited to test a fully integrated autonomous system that rapidly detects, responds and suppresses wildfires. There will be a competition testing area of X by X acres (NOTE: we are proposing testing in an outdoor environment). At the beginning of the test, competition officials will ignite a fire somewhere within the testing grid. Once Y threshold of spread, temperature, flame height, or another variable is crossed, the competing team will have Z minutes to detect and completely extinguish the fire. The overall cost of the teams’ system must be no more than C dollars. Solutions must not pose an risk to the environment and/or lives.


  • EtiEti Posts: 85 XPRIZE
    Hi all,
    Please allow us to clarify, when we say ‘suppression’ or ‘completely extinguish the fire,’ our focus is on teams' demonstrating the complete capability to detect and extinguish fires while they are still small. We will ask teams to go through the entire process of detecting the fire, deploying resources and ultimately putting the fire out, before it turns into a large fire event or a ‘Mega Fire.'
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    edited August 2019
    This is indeed a challenge!

    It would seem, then, at first read, that a successful solution must have a minimum of 2 to 3 components: 1] rapid AND accurate detection of the small fire, 2] rapid communication (as an integrated component) of this information (i.e., fire presence and location) to a fire fighting team, and, 3] rapid deployment of a fire fighting team (with "all the resources" * required for fire fighting).

    So then, some questions follow:

    Is this component 'breakdown' fundamentally valid and accurate (i.e., are these components absolute requirements for any wildfire suppression solution)?

    If yes, should any Wildfires XPrize delineate these components in its description details -- so as to help/assist the would-be Solver team in clarifying or simplifying its approach to the challenge?

    * "all the resources" is a variable capability, and will depend on how integrated the team's capabilities are with local and state agencies (and their resources and capabilities); examples: access to forest fire trucks, aerial resources (drones, helicopters or water or chemical -dumping planes, etc.). This will likely be a crucial aspect of any wildfire suppression solution.


    Communication (of the fire's presence and location) is an often forgotten component of the fire-fighting process; it is typically a 'presumed' component, but which may turn out to be the key component in the success or failure of a wildfire suppression challenge/test (consider the failure of communication technology among first responders during the 9/11 attacks). This component will therefore need to be developed, tested, and implemented/deployed (for at least within the area in which the wildfire test will occur) ahead of time (troubleshooting during an active challenge/test wold be a recipe for failure).

    Lastly, I will note that I use the word 'rapid' in each of the 3 component descriptions; obviously, when dealing with wildfires, rapidity of detection, communication, and response is crucial.
  • pzazzdaypzazzday San Diego CAPosts: 4
    I suggest a component of the prize include testing a product or method of preventing the wildfire. Research shows that most wildfires start from a tiny spark and because of present conditions such as scrub brush, dry weather and air flow the spark easily establishes itself and grows into the wildfire.
  • EtiEti Posts: 85 XPRIZE
    @marz62 Thank you for your comment. You've raised a critical point regarding the different component of the fire attack process. While the integration of the various components is essential for the overall mission, often across detection, response, and suppression resources, there are different capabilities and expertise. We are exploring ways to bridge between the components, including introducing teams. Nonetheless, if you have any ideas, please do share with us. Would you have thoughts about existing integrations of these 'components'?
  • EtiEti Posts: 85 XPRIZE
    @pzazzday Thank you for your comment. Indeed prevention and forecasting are crucial; this prize focuses on the increased risk for lives and assets, avoiding tragedy once a fire began spreading. Nonetheless, data and modeling can play a key role in emergency response. You've mentioned the high-risk conditions, would you be able to expand more on these, specifically environmental conditions relevant to WUI areas in fire-prone areas?
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    edited August 2019
    @Eti, @pzazzday - if I may...I will note that one of the major factors driving the spread of wildfires is soil moisture (or its loss); prolonged drought tends to result in loss of soil moisture. Thus, finding ways to prevent or mitigate soil moisture loss would be fundamental to the prevention side of the wildfire challenge (for example: see studies by Ashton et al, Science, 11 January, 2019. pp. 174-177; focusing on termites' role in preventing soil moisture loss in damaged / semi-desertified tropical forests).
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    @Eti - I will give your follow-up response to my comment some thought.

    A few quick thoughts:

    It seems that I have unintentionally brought up an issue regarding possible inequity in fire-fighting resources among (future) challenge teams. This can be tricky, as integration of these components (to facilitate a potentially successful challenge by one or more teams) would seem to be a (unique and) defining feature of a successful team.

    On the other hand, if one team has access to an advanced detection technology, for example, this would give the team a greater advantage in terms of spotting the fire early and triangulating its location (which will determine where the team will enter the 'fire zone'/challenge field, etc.). As another example, if one team has heavy-duty fire trucks (which can knock down certain sized trees) while other teams do not, this would throw advantage ('on the ground') to the former team, etc.

    So then, a major question here is WHICH resources do ALL teams share equally (i.e., resources available to each team during each challenge test), and, WHICH resources are a matter of choice and/or individual team innovation/creativity...?

    Perhaps we should start with identifying those MINIMUM resources that ALL teams will/would need to establish a minimum fire-fighting capability.

    More to come later.
  • mgollnermgollner Posts: 11 ✭✭
    I'll repeat some of what I think I incorrectly placed in the introduction:
    This is a great topic and ripe for community-driven solutions which can really be accelerated with a contest like this. One aspect that is often forgotten is that prevention and planning is key, which others have echoed above. Once a fire is started on the worst hot, dry, windy days, there is often little we can do to stop or put out that fire. If structures were better prepared and fuel management performed in advance, outcomes could dramatically change. Early detection and response is also very important, however it may not be possible on the very worst days, like during the Camp Fire that burned down Paradise, but it still could play a huge role for notification and evacuation.

    This, I know complicates how a contest is formed, but something we should keep in mind as a contest is prepared. How do we encourage both technology for rapid response and better preparation so that eventual disasters are small enough so that this response can actually make a difference?

    There was a comment above about soil moisture. This will affect the moisture of vegetation and ground litter/duff over time, however it depends on the history and both live and dead fuel moistures are often calculated for wildland fire spread simulations. We often say that fire spread is dominated by fuel, slope and wind. Long term drought can exacerbate fuel conditions but is one side of the "triangle" that drives fire behavior.

    In terms of conditions for wildfires, it is usually hot, dry and windy! In California many fires occur during Santa Ana or Diablo Wind conditions, up to 70 mph or greater. Fire spread from wildland to urban areas is generally dominated by small, flying embers which fly far ahead of the fire front and ignite new smaller "spot fires". This is a critical aspect of the problem that needs attention.
  • TerenceTerence Posts: 4
    It seems to me that one of the most crucial factors is the speed that action is taken. We are all familiar with helicopters dropping tons of water on fires that are out of control.. To be able to catch the start of fires will prevent such catastrophes.
  • mgollnermgollner Posts: 11 ✭✭
    @Terence It depends on the size of the fire. Time is indeed critical. If a fire is still small with relatively smaller flame lengths (<11 ft), it is possible to extinguish by aerial means. Typically less than a few acres. Otherwise fires tend to be very difficult to extinguish. Ground suppression is still most effective.
  • ssfredssfred Posts: 1
    edited August 2019
    I'll also echo the sentiments that thinking we can supress all fires, even with the most innovative approaches, is a fallacy. For fires that start under moderate conditions, our current infrastructures of detection and response are often enough, check out the suppression statistics through Inciweb. But the Megafires or the ones that are most damaging happen under the worst conditions, where it seems like no matter what suppression resources we utilize, the fire will spread. There is still room for improvement but convincing ourselves and our constiuents that we can control and stop all wildfires is a dangerous path.
    This brings me to two discussion points:
    1.) For this contest, I would advise testing solutions under some very extreme fire weather conditions, including very low fuel and soil moisture, hot temperatures, and strong winds. If this was too dangerous, testing under more moderate conditions and then modeling extreme fire weather might be an option.
    2.) Is there any option to include another catagory, one that is less about putting the fire out and more about how to protect infrastructue without suppression resources? This seems to be the next move, focusing on what to do when the fire comes rather than how to stop fires from happening.
  • akbakb Posts: 188 ✭✭✭
    This is a great challenge: audacious and probably achievable. The competitors will need a comprehensive description of the context under which their solution has to perform satisfactorily. We might want to reflect on what that context should be (how challenging and extreme). Some things to consider [but there may be more] include:

    * Availability of resources (e.g. how much water is available (water main / hydrant, pond, river, lake, only what the device can carry) and how far is that water from the fire).
    * Access to the land (e.g. what happens if the fire is on private property, and/or access by land is blocked by fences and locked gates)
    * Permission to act (e.g. if the fire is on private land, has it been authorised by the owner as a "controlled" burn - how do we quickly confirm this when a fire is detected)
    * Permission to destroy/re-purpose (e.g. solutions might use innovative methods that consume resources on the (private) land such as digging up soil, chopping down trees, draining water out of a fish pond, or cover the fire in a material that might have some side-effects - again how can we quickly get permission from the land owner / authorities)
  • pzazzdaypzazzday San Diego CAPosts: 4
    Under permission to act: It is my understanding that any prescribed burn (in CA) has to go through the fire district of which they are located, follow guidelines given & receive a permit. This info is shared with the fire protection agency in the area in case they require back up.
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    edited August 2019
    Ah, see what happens when key questions are asked and key considerations are addressed?

    The series of comments following my initial comments go much farther than I was thinking (demonstrating the value of many minds)...each offers relevant facts (about fires) and/or raises important questions (about fire fighting).

    First: @mgollner - thank you for pointing the additional key factors in wildfire spread; my rationale for mentioning soil moisture was simply to provide an example of a factor whose role must be considered - especially in terms of fire PREVENTION (@pzazzday). That said, it is good to know that 'fuel, slope, and wind' are identified factors in wildfire (spread)...although they may not be the direct/fundamental causes of said fires (this I do not know for sure; I am not an expert on wildfires).

    @ssfred - I'm sorry, but I think conducting a challenge under "extreme fire weather conditions" is a mistake...too many things can go wrong! And,doing so may curtail the continuation of the challenge in a reasonable amount of time so as to fight the fire started by the previous challenge team.

    I suggest conducting a wildfire detection-suppression challenge as follows:

    1] on a good fire suppression day(s)...meaning days when the wind is significantly LESS than whatever minimum threshold speed is associated with rapid fire spread. Probably not the hottest day, either.

    2] in a controlled area (to the maximum extent possible), that is, a designated and designed fire area (DDFA) of a given (TBD) size/area, and whose size can be carefully monitored (by the Challenge directors AND the professional fire fighting agency representatives).

    3] surrounding by cleared land (serving as a buffer zone for the DDFA)

    4] which is also 'manned' (personed?) by pro-firefighters in stand-by mode for the duration of (each team's test run of) the challenge. This stand-by mode can include tower spotters, helicopters (at the ready for take-off) and tree-breaker trucks (with standard fire fighting equipment and water tanks/water hoses, etc.).
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    edited August 2019
    Also: the "fact" that we cannot suppress 'all fires' is not a reason not to seek out the best /most innovative ideas for fire suppression (even if they are only applicable in a subset of cases/conditions). These innovative ideas can inform best practices in forest fire management. Even if they only succeed 10-20% of the time -- that's 10 - 20% of fires we can contain / suppress (along with the concomitant costs and losses).
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    @mgollner - thanks the factual content, especially this observation:

    "Fire spread from wildland to urban areas is generally dominated by small, flying embers which fly far ahead of the fire front and ignite new smaller "spot fires". This is a critical aspect of the problem that needs attention. "

    I had not considered that, but now, in reflection, I would ask: is there some way to 'quell' or reduced the transport of these 'flying embers' from their origination sites to new areas (which make 'hot spots')?

    For example (and this is crazy impractical, I know): what about artificially generating massive volumes of cloud (condensed water vapor) well in front of the fire's path -- not for putting out the fire per se but for damping/dampening the flying embers?

    Such a strategy -- or other (for prevention as well as suppression) -- would address the observations/comments by @ssfred and @pzazzday
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    edited September 2019
    Still waiting for feedback on my suggestions and responses to the comments (above).

    Also, I would change the acronym (suggested above) to simply DFZ (Designated Fire Zone), or similar (three letters are easier to use/remember than four :-) ) as opposed to 'testing grid' mentioned at the top .
  • EtiEti Posts: 85 XPRIZE
    Dear @marz62 , thank you for the feedback, it is extremely valuable and our apologies for the delay - be sure that we are reading and reviewing as we go; we just do not always can respond soon enough. I'll do my best to respond to what I can.

    Generally speaking, you are right, many things can go wrong when testing in extreme conditions and outdoors, and we take this very seriously. However, given that the majority (around 97%) of fires are successfully suppressed and the 3% (which evolve into large fire events) are notably affected by extreme conditions, pose the greatest risk and are on the increase - we believe it should be an important consideration for future capabilities, and thus needs to be tested; We are working rigorously with fire behavior and fire testing experts, in addition to this wonderful community, to ensure the safety of such high-risk testing. In addition, indeed, as discussed above, extreme conditions will include more than the Red Flag weather (low humidity, strong wind), but also the type of fuel (we are looking at a mix of grassland, shrubland, and forest) and terrain (valley and ridge can accelerate the spread).

    While still looking into the design, I can say that you are right, this testing area must be contained and isolated, if by territory conditions, structures or previously burned area - this is to be determined, in consideration of available areas. Just to add, that there are certain limitations to outdoor testing in certain wind speed, and we are still looking into that. Nonetheless, there's a growing consensus at the added value of testing outdoors and in fire weather.

    In your suggestions, it seems like you've taken most of the above into consideration, so I'll just quickly respond.
    1) [good fire-weather days] - testing it in winds above 15mph has been pointed out repeatedly as very valuable (due to already existing very good suppression capabilities)
    2) [contained area, DFZ] absolutely, and very good point re response. Currently, we've identified by observation (/detection) capabilities, a 20X20miles grid; however, still looking into the grid size as we work on time to response (and distance to travel) - a possible trade-off, given the current ambition to test in fire weather.
    3) [cleared land] that is one option but definitely should be an isolated and contained area.
    4) [stand by team] yes, you are right - for safety concerns, we must be able to control the fire (just in case), and that's why we are looking at a possible variable to suppression (asking when is it getting 'out of control').

    Thank you regarding your point on the need for innovation, we've also spoken to several firefighters who expressed the need for innovation in capabilities.

    Regarding your point on embers, absolutely, a huge problem in the WUI and especially in these big fires. We ultimately hope to evade or at least reduce this difficulty in the future of firefighting by encouraging the development of a capability that rapidly detects and suppresses fire (in extreme conditions), before the event escalates. Nonetheless, agreed, embers - and consequently the possibility of more than one fire ignited is important, and maybe we can incorporate that aspect into testing - the giant cloud is a very interesting idea - thank you for that!
  • EtiEti Posts: 85 XPRIZE
    @akb Thank you for your comment, very helpful points
  • EtiEti Posts: 85 XPRIZE
    @ssfred Thank you for your comment, indeed it's very ambitious and bold - but we can at the very list hope to get there. Nonetheless, we are also looking into developing indicators to measure advancement in the field (i.e, quicker detection, quicker control), but this is still very early thinking. Please do share your thoughts. We agree with you regarding testing in extreme conditions, but still trying to figure out our limitation as well as what would be a minimal good indicator - if you have thoughts on that. Thanks again
  • EtiEti Posts: 85 XPRIZE
    @pzazzday Thank you for your comment. Do you have any more details on this topic? (permits for fire) and/or if there are designated areas?
  • UtobouUtobou JapanPosts: 8 ✭✭
    It may be a bit out of focus from this challenge, but in order to find a versatile and deployable technology for this artificial wildfire in the future, what about adding the point of “controlling” wildfires in addition to detection, communication, orientation, definition, and action? For example, guiding the direction of the fire spread in a deliberate direction, controlling the exact area (at certain square miles) of the fire spread, limiting and controlling the speed of fire spread under certain sq mi per hour, and the like. The size of fire spread area may be determined in consideration with the maintenance of the ecosystem and the amount of carbon dioxide released by the forest due to the fire, the distance from adjacent wildfires at the same or certain time interval. (My apologies but I don’t have any expertise on this topic.) Anyway, is there a space to consider the challenge of unrealistic technology to “control” wildfires?
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    @Utobou - Your suggestion for a challenge component focusing on 'controlling' a wild fire is a good one and speaks to the XPrize's introductory proviso: "XPRIZE does not believe that all fires should be extinguished - as we recognize the importance of fires in maintaining biodiversity and thinning fuel load."

    Your suggestion should be discussed/vetted here, even as it may likely complicate the challenge design (by adding another aspect/dimension to the challenge, etc.). How should this aspect ('fire control' versus 'suppression') be integrated? Is fire 'control' in this context simply an aspect of fire suppression?


    Should this capability (i.e., to control the direction, spread and area of a wildfire for ecological-environmental purposes) be one of those 'nice to have' (secondary) features of this challenge, or, is it a 'front-line' component/aspect of the challenge?
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    @Eti - Golly! Ask and ye shall receive! You responses to my comments were/are pretty darned thorough, especially your points about testing under 'extreme' (fire-promoting) conditions; thank you for clarifying that. I was approaching this fire challenge design from the 'erroring on the side of caution' perspective...but, it seems that this defeats the purpose of the challenge (this makes sense to me now, although i still worry about fire control under said extreme conditions). @pzazzday was correct about this.
  • marz62marz62 Seattle, WAPosts: 122 ✭✭✭
    @Eti - in regards to your comment:

    "...given that the majority (around 97%) of fires are successfully suppressed and the 3% (which evolve into large fire events) are notably affected by extreme conditions, pose the greatest risk and are on the increase - we believe it should be an important consideration for future capabilities, and thus needs to be tested."

    It is good to get actual data on wildfire suppression (source of these stats?). At first glance, this '97%' seems remarkable and impressive (and it makes the 3% seem like 'no big deal' or a 'manageable' problem)...until one realizes that:

    a] 'suppression' here does not indicate the total TIME* it takes/took to suppress those 97% of wildfires,

    b] NOR how much damage (to forest, private property, human and animal life, etc.) was caused BEFORE the 'successful' suppression was achieved.

    Thus also: these two aspects of wildfire fighting/suppression ('hidden' if you will' in your fire suppression stats) would seem to be crucial (judging) 'metrics' (akin to the 'deliverables' of a creative project contract) or criteria for successfully 'solving' this challenge.


    1] How much TIME does the integrated (detection-suppression) solution take?


    2] how much DAMAGE (total forested area burned -- possibly as a proxy for total damage noted in item b], above) occurs before satisfactory fire suppression occurs?

  • UtobouUtobou JapanPosts: 8 ✭✭
    edited September 2019
    @marz62 - in regard to your question
    I'm assuming that the "control" should be rather frontline of the challenge. The first reason is that sometimes "control" requires an advanced OODA process rather than just completing extinguishing. In a challenge, a team that is certainly found very early stage of artificial wildfire will be advantageous and of course, that is the technology we are looking for. However, I think that the natural forest may have more complexity compared to the forest considered in this challenge. Therefore, I thought I could add a little more complexity to this challenge by adding control aspect. Second is also the technology perspective. As you mentioned, all fires shouldn't be extinguished. and sometimes there is a purposeful fire like slash-and-burn agriculture. In this case, in particular, as an initial stage, instead of extinguishing before the artificial fire reaches a predetermined threshold, it is necessary to identify the characteristics (geographic features, wind direction, trees habitation, and so on) and control it against natural conditions. This technology will surely provide useful solution options in the future. So I thought this element could be on the front line of the challenge. Thank you,
  • EtiEti Posts: 85 XPRIZE
    @Utobou Thank you, it's an interesting perspective on the control/containment, could you elaborate more on what could be considered, in your view, a successful/effective suppression?
  • UtobouUtobou JapanPosts: 8 ✭✭
    edited September 2019
    @Eti Thank you, too for asking this. To be honest, from now on, it may need expertise such as forestologists, biologists, geographers, professional firefighters and so on, because this controlling technology is mainly for human intentional purposes. But I personally think that at least “the exact spread area (sq mi)” at the time of fire extinguishing is completed, “the direction” towards higher or lower, east, west, south, and north on the spread of fire (for example, in case that there is an important area that you want to avoid spreading in a certain direction in a natural forest, then I would like to limit the direction even against natural tendencies), and also “the fire spread speed”. Those are in my mind.
  • NickAzerNickAzer Portland, OR, USAPosts: 219 admin
    Great comments so far, thank you everyone!

    We've added a couple of new discussion threads - a discussion on time limits and the length of time teams should have to respond to a fire; and also a discussion on the thresholds a fire should reach before being responded to by teams.

    We'd love to see any input on you might have on those! Again, thank you for all the excellent feedback so far. Looking forward to seeing more of these great discussions that have developed!
  • AlmogAlmog CEO and Co-founder IsraelPosts: 19 ✭✭
    Considering most of excellent ideas and comments above , I'd like to make a try to contributing to the discussion with some of my ideas. Please, let me to introduce end-to-end approach on a system level of design, consists of of THREE key components:
    1. Early detection - implementing SWIR (Short Wave IR) cameras to detect the fire even through dense smoke.
    2. Containing high energy of fire front AND/OR knocking down multiple unexpected small hot spots, day and NIGHT - delivering a massive blitz attack of kamikaze-like, highly accurate, low-cost disposable and engineless gliders. Each glider disperses couple of hundreds litres of water that is sprayed in rain-like fashion for efficient heat absorption, while safely disintegrating into small, easily decomposable parts. Fleet of Multi-rotor drones or Gyrocopters operate as vertical elevators to dispatch the gliders from a single operational site, guided by the highly intelligent Command & Control Application. The system could deliver more than 100 tone of water per hour day and NIGHT. (thorough desk research shows that 500 litre per hour are needed to contain 1 meter of high energy of fire front and 500 litre are needed to knock down a sing small hot spot of 20X20 m^2 in area). The concept is illustrated in a short video.
    3. Command and control application - operated by firefighter officer. That's to say that absolutely no knowledge of flying is required.

    There're much more critical questions to talk about:
    1. How to get on with early detection requirement in vast area?
    2. What is the viable economical model?
    3. What is the process to gain regulation approval?
    4. How to reaching out wide area for deploying the system in a short period of time?
    5. And probably more...

    I leave all that for now.

    Excitedly waiting for your (hard) comments.
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