Looking for tech solutions to wildfire destruction

As wildfires leave a wake of destruction in the American West - innovators and firefighters are hoping new technology can give them the edge they need.

One idea is ‘Squishy’ a robot made at University of California, Berkeley, which can be dropped into a fire with cameras and gas sensors – currently being tested by fire departments in other states.

“So what we have is an exterior protective structure and an interior brain that carries chemical sensors, cameras and communications equipment.”

Lead Mechatronics Engineer Douglas Hutchings says some investors have already shown interest in the resilient robot.

"We've talked with VCs about wildfires and they think it's a great use case, but they really see the fact that we're getting pulled into hazmat as a sign that we know what we're doing and actually should focus on that area because you march to the drum beat of your customers."

Public safety startups have found it hard to find funding from traditional venture capitalists, who don’t see money to be made selling to cash-strapped fire departments. But there's potentially life-saving technology out there such as an evacuation platform by startup Zonehaven.

It links maps with residents, police and fire departments, and can simulate where fires will spread with weather, so they know when to get people out of harm’s way.

CEO Charlie Crocker says it has already been useful this year.

"During the CZU complex fire, we were really lucky to have already built out zones for Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo County”

Record wildfires killed dozens of people along the West Coast this summer and threatened some people who call the tech hub of Silicon Valley home.

Dave Winnacker is the chief of the Moraga Orinda Fire District Chief and people in his zone responded to his call for high-tech help.

"A significant number of UC Berkeley faculty live in the fire district. That gives me the ability to reach out informally to quote unquote academic advisors, class researchers and so forth (edit) … then we further benefit because there are a significant number of people who work in tech, live in the district."

One data analysis firm Splunk has created a $50 million social impact fund that could be used for fire-relief projects.

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