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Several start-ups are developing technology to manage and cope with the increasing number of natural disasters that climate change is already causing.

We must prepare for more violent and volatile weather in the future.

Because rising temperatures are not only making the planet uninhabitable over time, but are also intensifying and causing new natural disasters such as floods, forest fires, droughts and storms, say scientists who call the phenomenon ‘extreme weather’. This is likely to mean greater casualties in terms of lost resources, destruction and human lives.

In particular, floods caused by extreme rainfall or rising sea levels are increasingly having disaster potential, warns the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And Danish start-up RiverWorks is preparing for that future.

The two DTU engineers Alexander Rietz Vesterhauge and Anders Slotsbo behind the DTU project RiverWorks

“Water wears and shapes the environment significantly over time. This means that rivers are constantly changing, and failure to keep a constant overview of their condition can have huge consequences, for example in the event of torrential rain.”

So says Alexander Rietz Vesterhauge, one of two engineers from DTU behind the RiverWorks project – a drone that can land on water surfaces and take cross-sectional measurements of rivers and streams autonomously. This allows local authorities to map water flows and model how water is transported and how much water a given area can hold before it becomes a safety hazard.

“One of the ambitions is to make this type of measurement more accessible. Not just in the West, but for the countries hardest hit by these floods. That’s why we’ve worked to make the drone autonomous and affordable,” says Vesterhauge.

The latest example came in Pakistan, where almost 1/3 of the country was flooded in August by the annual monsoon rains, which this year turned out to be stronger and more violent than ever before – a development scientists attribute to climate change, warmer temperatures and melting glaciers.

Therefore, it is precisely areas without the resources to send expensive consultants into the field with vadders and measuring equipment (which has been the usual method in this type of measurements) that the drone is used.

An accident rarely comes alone

In nature, everything is inextricably linked. California, Canada, Australia and France are just a few of the many places that have felt the effects of increasing numbers of violent forest fires, which also weaken the soil and make it less absorbent to, for example, torrential rain.

Denmark has also become aware of the problem. That is why Aalborg University spinout Robotto has developed a drone that can autonomously scan and report in real time on the extent and area of a forest fire, isolate areas by fire level and identify hotspots that are essential to tackle in the aftermath.

CEO og medstifter af Robotto Kenneth Richard Geipel

“Although the drone can also be used for the detection stage, 70 percent of all forest firefighting consists of the huge clean-up work the disaster leaves behind. Particularly problematic are the many hotspots where the fire is likely to flare up. And our solution helps identify them effectively,” explains CEO and co-founder of Robotto, Kenneth Richard Geipel.

And it’s the artificial intelligence it’s equipped with that makes it particularly effective in fighting forest fires.

“Our core technology is artificial intelligence, which we develop through up to 40,000 images to identify the objects and situations to which the drone needs to respond. In this way, it acts autonomously from the situation as it arises,” describes Kenneth Richard Geipel.

Eight of the 20 largest fires in California’s history have occurred within five years. And the cascade of disaster casualties and costs has Silicon Valley investors looking towards so-called fire tech solutions to both prevent fires and reduce the damage that follows. And Robotto is noticing this trend.

“Unfortunately, the paradox is that the more disasters there are in the world, the more demand there is for our drone. And it’s telling that technology related to fighting forest fires is one of the more fast-growing markets,” explains the entrepreneur.

But in the long term, other markets may await the Danish startup.

“Our ultimate dream is to eventually have small drone air bases that can help with everything from forest fires and oil spills, to human searches and building inspections” says Kenneth Richard Geipel.

So far, forest fires are the focus area. In that context, the most brutal wildfire in California’s history, ‘The Camp Fire’, destroyed about one American football field every 3 seconds it lasted, killing a total of 68 people in 2018. And the cost was thought-provoking, the Robotto founder believes.

“We’ve gone from discussing whether the symptoms even existed to now talking about how we manage them. We have accepted that we have failed and that we cannot postpone this global warming,” says Kenneth Richard Geipel.

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