What are the barriers to deploying winning solutions?

As part of our prize design, XPRIZE tries to understand barriers successful teams might have in deploying their solutions at scale in the real world after the prize. So even if a team is successful and wins this competition, what might keep them from being able to get their solution to market? Lack of funding? Regulation? Difficulties in manufacturing or supply chains?

Proposed Prize (click “show” to view):
[spoiler]Wildfire XPRIZE - Rapid, precise and autonomous detection and suppression of wildfires to prevent the loss of life and assets

The Winning Team will autonomously detect and extinguish a spreading wildfire in a large, controlled area in 10 minutes or less.

The prize design:
Each finalist team will be assigned a 1,000 km2 (20X20 mile) grid. On test day, in that grid, XPRIZE will create several small, decoy stationary fires and one hazardous target fire. Once the fire is moving, or reaches 2 meters in diameter, the team will have 10 minutes to autonomously extinguish the target fire and any spot fires, while leaving the decoy fires untouched. [/spoiler]

What activities or programs could we undertake to help overcome these challenges?

Please share any ideas, examples, experiences, or thoughts you might have!

Regulation seems like a particularly big issue in this field, particularly with respect to UAVs or drones. For example, it seems like potentially drones that weigh more than 55 lbs cannot fly below 400 feet in the U.S. Does anyone know if there are exceptions for testing or other exemptions?

For some solutions (e.g. ground based vehicles), there might need to be protocols (or regulations) established for gaining rapid access to private land. For example, is authorisation automatic (in regulations) or are there emergency contact numbers.

Promotion of the winning solutions to potential users could be helpful in selling the ideas and products. Filming the device in action (e.g. during the challenge) could be used to provide useful promotional material (video). Along with the data-sheet of a devices capabilities (terrains, weather conditions, extinguishing rates, etc.).

If solutions require access to vast quantities of water then the provision of water supplies could be a key supporting requirement. [For dry countries, or counties, without adequate water reserves, water based solutions might be of limited use. Perhaps this should be factored into the challenge: two prizes perhaps for environments where water is available, and where it is not. Note: some (radical) innovations might not require the use of water.]

General support of the type given to start-ups, could be useful if the winner is a start-up or small business. For example: networking with support organisations and potential partners, and access to funding.

Referring to barriers issue raised by @DanSelz’s. The three key Go2Market barriers of Water Dome solution implementation might have after the prize are the following:

  1. Competition - Our direct competitors are the current aerial firefighting service providers. These are aviation organizations, mostly private companies, well positioned in the market. They are the major barrier in terms of our market entry, as they have the ability, theoretically, to block our team’s engagement with key stake holders at all levels. Our strategy to overcome them is by forging an alliance with local partners, based on Water Dome as a complementary solution, especially for night circumstances with presence of not more than 10% market share. @XPRIZE could probably support us by opening the doors at appropriate local partners. Those with solid strong relationships with the local firefighting agencies. Those with the capabilities to operate the system. It goes without saying that our team will supply the complete system including infield technical and operational support.

  2. Regulation - All aerial systems must be confirmed by the Civil Aviation Authorities. This is a timely and expensive process. We plan to overcome this risk by conducting an airworthiness ground test (connected flying gliders) where the safety of our flight capabilities in comparison to General Aviation standards will be demonstrated. We have a creative plan as to how implement this test in a very cost-effective way. We will build an outdoor wind tunnel based on commercial blowers. We can fly 2-3 wired connected gliders continuously 24/7 for 3 to 4 weeks, aiming to get airworthiness statistics over 1000 hours required by the ICAA for General Aviation. Moreover, our plan is to initially operate the system over unsettled areas, implementing an agile capability to end a flawed glider’s flight in a controlled manner (fast water dropping in high altitude. Less than 10 kg remain and fall down to earth above unsettled areas). It must be remembered the Water Dome will be operational under emergency situations where saving lives takes precedence above all. We plan to get experimental certificate in Israel first and extend this certificate with FAA based on that. Our team has proved capabilities to tackle with this challenges over the past 4 years by getting 2 test flights certificated (in 2016 and 2018).

  3. Environmental Compliance - A typical fight against a high intensity wildfire can require dropping one million litres of water over 10 hours. This is an operation that will require 3,000 flying gliders (300 per hour) which means less than 30 tons (<10 kg per glider) of biodegradable materials is burnt or falls to the ground. Therefore, the system must meet environmental standards. To overcome this challenge, we use less than 50 grams of metal and electronic material, only 0.5% of total gliders’ mass. We will conduct biodegradable tests to prove our full compliance with environmental standards. It should be noted that this is a major improvement in comparison to the drop of more than 100 tons of retardants and hazardous materials, >10% of the 1 million litres dropped today by Air Tankers.

I believe the wining of this competition will strongly support to get the first commercial purchase order. Assuming a typical contract of 1 mill litre of water equal capacity, the revenue for that is expected to be $10 mill ($10 per litre as it’s common today). We need 1.5 years time frame to supply the system and get operationally organised. Over this time frame and by this first revenue we plan to overcome the three barriers above and to establish the supply chain’s critical mass in Israel. That’s to say manufacturing.

@akb thank you for your insights, very interesting perspective. I think one comment to make about innovation in fire suppression materials, options are a little limited when it comes to wildfires as we will require teams to meet the environmental standards.

With regards to your last comment, general support to startup - do you have an opinion on the direction of partners in the field? i.e., is it better to approach the consumer market or firefighting forces, is it firefighting at the local level federal/national? (just a few examples) Thank you!

@Almog; many thanks for these incredible insights. May I ask a couple of follow up questions?

  1. can you please advise on the environmental standards you use? We have been looking into NFPA with regards to suppression materials, but curious to learn more about the biodegradable standards you follow.

  2. With regards to contracts, our research indicated one barrier being the type of contracts; most common seems to be the Call-when-needed, which threatens the business stability; I actually know that this is the case in Israel with regards to helicopters, but does it apply also to your field and/or your experience? I would appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

Thank you again, this is extremely helpful!

@Eti, thank you for the opportunity to explore some more about the barrier stuff:

  1. We’ve acquired the scientific knowledge on **Biodegradable Standards ** in the EU Bioplastic Organisation and are going to follow the European Certification Standards, EN 13432 and EN 14995 .

  2. With regards to contracts, my research showed up two types of contracts:
    a. Exclusive - all resources like aircrafts, pilots, fuel, ground infrastructure etc. are FULLY dedicated to be ready for a call. The price is relatively high and the Operational Availability is relatively high in time. Aircraft could be ready in the air within 30-60 min after call and sometimes earlier. Business stability in that case is relatively high. b. On call, as you mentioned above. In that case the resources should be mobilised to the mission on call and therefore, the price is relatively low. Moreover, the Operational Availability is relatively low in time. Aircraft should be properly reinstalled to the mission and could be ready in the air within 12 - 48 hours (depends on kit installation and the aircrafts’ size) after call. Business stability in that case is relatively low.

Those contracts’ type could be applied on Water Dome System (WDS) But in the OPPOSITE way in regard to the price. Let’s assuming a solid strong need to protect a critical site like hospital, electrical infrastructure, school etc. In that case the required operational avaiablity is 5 minutes in time. That’s to say, EXCLUSIVE type of contract is appropiate. The price is expected to be relatively LOW ($10/litre or less). This is prety much the opposite to the use of manned aircrafts. The business stability in that case is quite high due to the expected high profit margine.
I believe there’re some customers/governments who require ON CALL contracts. They probably would like to have some kind of “insurance” with a VERY low “primium” cost but VERY highly of “detuctible” cost. In that case we plan to establish some kind of emergency site somewhere on the globe to be mobilized by commercial cargo aircrafts to anywhere is needed on call. In order to keep the business stability in a sensible way. the price (similar to “detuctible”) will be MUCH higher in compare to exclusive type of contract. This is also pretty much opposite to the use of manned aircrafts.

I think EXCLUSIVE type of contracts are preferable to protect a defined sites as if it provide initial attack within 5 minutes after call with the lower price.

@Almog, many thanks for your prompt, comprehensive and helpful reply. This is crucially important to us to learn about barriers as such as to ensure that breakthroughs are incorporated to drive positive impact.

Here’s some practical barriers when it comes to actual deployment. [Inspired by what actually happened in the recent wildfire in Paradise, CA]

The infrastructure we take for granted cannot be relied upon once a wild fire takes over. Mobile phone communications become blocked by the excessive demand from emergency calls; and burnt phone towers cut off all communications via the cell. Escaping vehicles block roads - preventing (rapid) access by fire and emergency vehicles. Power lines could be brought down, cutting off electricity.

So a challenge might want to consider the reality of such scenarios - would the prototypes (and support systems) actually work?

Is there value in considering static solutions too (given that ground based access could be a problem)? For example, a “ring of water” around critical infrastructure and towns? (e.g. automated/robotic water hoses)

@akb very interesting re connectivity - we were thinking around that, i.e., how to challenge this aspect in the test or require it in solution - perhaps require solutions to have a backup to GPS lost signal. - Are you thinking of it in terms of scaling? In what way, if you can elaborate a little?

Regarding static solutions, a great idea - it makes excellent sense to learn patterns of burns, identify critical locations, and plan accordingly. Considering the direction this prize has taken (wildland fires, firefighting response), it’s probably less relevant, but I say that with great caution - as we are not prescribing solutions. I do know that certain actors are working on defensive buildings.

In terms of communications, if the cell tower burns down then an alternative system would be useful. (e.g. dynamic drone comms network, overhead balloons, planes, or the growing network of Internet satellites). (GPS signals should remain available, as they are provided by remote satellites.)

The static solutions could be very useful, given that mobilising other solutions might takes hours (or not get there in time at all). The defensive buildings sound interesting. There could be XPRIZE categories/prizes for mobile and static solutions. It might be that a synergistic combination works well, perhaps.

@akb - (this post relates to part of a previous comment by you) There is another (potentially) critical factor in implementing any future winning Wildfire XPrize solution: power grid shut downs. Today’s NY Times featured a front page article on the current Kincade fire. As you may know, PG & E has decided that shutting off power (here: shutting off power for 2.7 million people) is a viable strategy for preventing electrical sparks which can cause more fires, etc.

Given the general reliance on technology (cellular networks, Internet, satellites, etc.) as a major component of XPrize solutions, I thought that this quote from the feature article is quite salient:

"Cell towers require power. They typically have a backup power source when the electric grid goes down, but those emergency sources usually last no more than 24 to 48 hours — a challenge for the telecom system during a power shut-off that could stretch beyond two days. " [source: NY Times article, ‘With Whipping Winds and Power Down, Californians Flee Fires’, Monday, October 28, 2019]

it would seem that the current Kincade fire represents one of those “3%” of fires that this XPrize is focusing on, and, that the power shut-off strategy for limiting wild fire spread could pose a MAJOR obstacle to implementing any chosen/winning XPrize solution (i.e., those depending upon cellular applications wi-fi connectivity via cellular networks and even satellite data feeds or down links).

What are your thoughts?

Here is another quoted section from the same article:

’ During the recent large-scale power outage, Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services, railed against the telecommunications industry for failing to ensure that cell towers and general services remained in operation during the blackouts. He said the industry was not responding to the state’s needs.

“Verizon is prepared to keep customers connected during any disruption in commercial power,” Heidi Flato, a Verizon spokeswoman, said in an email, but acknowledged that “there are discrete areas of our network that will experience service disruption or degradation,” because of the outages. ’ [emphasis added]

Good points @marz62
It seems that we can’t rely on some of the infrastructure being present or satisfactory during a wild fire.

There are at least two options. Fire solutions provide their own support systems, e.g. communications and power. Or they rely on other support systems that remain optional in a wild fire. For example, a number of companies are planning and deploying satellite communication networks.

The XPRIZE challenge could simulate scenarios where conventional infrastructure is unavailable, as has been demonstrated in recent fires in California.

Learning from other sectors…
The military have similar capabilities with their drones and communication networks that span thousands of miles. Perhaps more lessons can be learnt from them, such as the ability to identify areas of interest. In this case fires. The use of AI for image recognition could be useful too.

Fighting wildland fire with drone based high energy acoustic is new patented technology. There is no need to find water. Drone blasting the fire target 100 to 300 meter away with modulated ultrasound suppressing oxygen entering the burning target.