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This Quebec company is pitching its balloons and A.I. system to combat wildfires

During Canada’s worst forest fire year on record, a Montreal start-up says they’ve created a system to help authorities deal with future blazes.

“Here we have the balloon,” said company president and co-founder Katrina Albert, gesturing towards the large white sphere inflated in LUX Aerobot’s Quebec studio. The company uses the balloons to collect data on forest fires which, with the use of A.I., can predict their progression.

After ascending into the stratosphere, Albert says they can stay in the air for days capturing high-resolution images. The data can be quickly shared with authorities on the ground, the company says.

“Not only are you preventing the fires from expanding and then potentially damaging infrastructure, and obviously have an impact on the population, but also you prevent them from emitting CO2,” said Albert.

LUX Aerobot has already secured a $500,000 contract with celebrity entrepreneur Robert Herjavec of Dragon’s Den. It says it’s also signed a contract with Australia’s defence force, and it’s in talks with Quebec’s wildfire response agency SOPFEU.

THE 'BLOCKBUSTER' YEAR

Quebec’s wildfires wreaked havoc on local forests and air quality across eastern North America this year.

In late June, Montreal topped the charts for the world’s worst air quality due to 80 consectuive wildfires scorching northern Quebec. Those with lung conditions were warned to stay indoors as shifting winds sent a thick haze of smoke southbound through the city and into the United States.

A firefighter walks toward a major field and forest fire at Lambert Peat moss fields in Riviere-Ouelle, Que., Friday, June 19, 2020. The fire spread over more than 10 km, pushed by strong winds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

SOPFEU’s Information Technology and Performance Director Olivier Lundqvist called it a “blockbuster.”

“It’s a season we couldn’t have imagined,” he told CTV. Agencies like SOPFEU rely in-part on satellites for fire imaging.

“We really only get one or two images per day, and then as soon as there's cloud cover that's not even useful,” said Lundqvist.

SOPFEU is planning to run LUX Aerobot’s balloons through a series of field tests next year. The company hopes to expand their services to include monitoring of other natural disasters, such as floods, coastal erosion, as well as arctic security.

“It's really investing in new innovation that will help us address these challenges that are to come,” said Albert. 

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