The FireWatch System2020-04-21T17:36:31+10:00

The FireWatch System

Tower-based, automatic and reliable

Proven 21st century automatic smoke detection technology. Early detection means early extinguishment.

The FireWatch System

The FireWatch system monitors the landscape using a sophisticated sensor unit to collect data. These sensors are mounted on existing telecommunications masts or fire towers and rotate 360 degrees every 4-8 minutes with the sensor capturing three images in every 10 degrees slice of the rotation.

A combination of 36 images are formed in a panoramic view and fed back to the central system in a Control Room.

  • OSS – Optical Sensor System – Each OSS rotates 360° within 
4 to 10 minutes in 10° steps
  • Data transfer – The OSS at the tower site has a wireless connection to the office computer.
  • Central Office – The forest workers are provided with a workspace (computer, two monitors and a printer).
FireWatch System Overview

Each FireWatch sensor has a detection range of up to 40kms depending upon topography with a visual field resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixel CCD depending on the lens configuration.

The FireWatch system does not need to see flames before it raises an alert. The optical sensor works detecting the difference between 16,384 shades of the colour grey and has a number of sophisticated mathematical algorithms which can discern the unique characteristics of smoke. This means in many instances it can tell the difference between bushfire smoke, fog, cloud or mist.

Once bushfire smoke has been detected, the system alerts the Control Room, where further analysis by experienced fire fighters, forestry professionals or fire spotters can determine if the alert is a fire of concern. This analysis minimises the chance of a false alarm being sent to the authorities, and the misallocation of scarce fire fighting resources, saving time and money.

As the sensor has the ability to pinpoint the exact location via topographical data, authorities are given the exact location of the bushfire and can promptly deploy the right resources to extinguish the fire. The information from the sensor also provides vital information about the size of the fire, how fast it is moving and the direction it is travelling.

To achieve this result, FireWatch would use a range of meteorological information as well as the skills and experience of the fire spotters, volunteer fire fighters or forestry professionals operating the system. FireWatch sensors operate in real time, 24 hours a day, every day of the year, both day and night.

  • Advanced Detection

  • Superior Technology & Range

  • Night Vision

  • 20 Years Research

  • Superior Optical Sensors

  • Cost Effective

Advanced Detection

The human eye and color cameras are restricted to the visible spectrum between 400-680 nm. The FireWatch sensor is able to cover a much larger spectral range of 400-1100 nm. This means that the FireWatch system is perfectly adoptable for all regions, vegetation and operating conditions and even hidden fires may be detected at night.

As a result of the 2.5 times larger spectral range, FireWatch easily outperforms human spotters and any other wildfire detection approach.

Advanced Detection

Superior Technology & Range

Depending on weather conditions and visibility, the FireWatch system has proven to detect smoke plumes at distances of over 60km. To ensure reliable performance in misty and cloudy conditions, we recommend calculating with a detection radius of 15km.

One sensor may be able to surveil at least 70,000 ha, that is when the view is not obstructed.

Conventional video technology can not compete due to their technological limitations: in difficult environmental conditions, sustainable fire spotting is unrealistic at a distance of more than 8 km. With a clear view, generic color cameras can zoom in to cover larger distances, yet the nearby areas would not be covered. Lastly, a full 360° view would be inefficient and take a long time.

Raw-Date Processing

When capturing information at large distances, it is crucial to be able to decipher all elements, especially in poor weather conditions. Generic color cameras used for smoke and fire detection process compressed pictures and videos, such as JPEG files and H.264/5, resulting in a loss of information and detail. The IQ FireWatch algorithms are based on RAW data processing for ideal performance.

Raw-Date Processing

Night Vision

The FireWatch optical sensor incorporates enhanced spectral sensitivity with near-infrared (NIR) sensing capabilities. This permits detection across a wide range of visible light wavelength (480 to 1200nm) day or night—far superior to that of the human eye/CCTV which has a range of only 400 to 750nm. Furthermore, the sensor’s extremely high grey-scale resolution enables it to distinguish between over 16,000 shades of grey.

Therefore CCTV may either miss out certain smoke clouds of it will take them a much longer time to detect smoke. In addition, due to the colour filters, CCTV cameras will find a lack of contrast of the smoke against the green background which forest and bush normally have. This makes the job for a CCTV camera much more difficult, it will take a longer time to detect the fire, if at all.

Night vision sensor images

Images from the Peters Hill and Mt Cowley sensors, NSW. Bushfire automatically detected at 19:55 from towers at Peters Hill at 3.77Km and Mt Cowley at 20.46Km.

Images from the Mt Tumorrama sensor,Victoria. Bushfire automatically detected at 23:06 at Mt Tumorrama tower at 4.48Km.

20 Years Research

More than 20 years of hard work and over 100,000 hours have contributed to designing and improving FireWatch technology; created as the result of a close collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The FireWatch team are a group of dedicated, highly skilled and experienced German engineers, experts in their field. A global FireWatch database of over 50,000 smoke detections from hundreds of FireWatch installations is the foundation for continuous improvement of our system and sensors.

Superior Optical Sensors vs CCTV

CCTV cameras are the most commonly used technology for surveillance and supervision tasks in many applications. One of their tasks is to broadcast in colour. Colour images are split into blue, green and red components. This lowers the light intensity per channel, which results in an inability to cover the complete wavelength range that bushfire smoke can adopt, meaning that some fires will be missed by detection systems that have to rely upon colour CCTV cameras, as shown by the ‘wavelength gaps’ between the individual colour filters.

This is the reason why FireWatch ONLY uses a black & white sensor for the automatic detection component of the system and also why we have an in-built separate but secondary HD colour camera, to provide for situational awareness.  No other detection system includes both of these technologies.

The FireWatch System uses black & white Optical Sensors for the detection of bushfire smoke becuase it is faster and it delivers images at 400% better resolution than CCTV camera technology.

The following images show the difference in contrast as a result of a filtered spectrum range associated with a colour CCTV camera in terms of resolution for the application bushfire smoke detection. The detection result using the FireWatch black & white sensor is much better, clearer and enables a much larger area to me monitored.

This is especially important for detection at night, as the FireWatch Sensor has a resolution 400% better than CCTV camera technology.

FireWatch BW Optical SensorCCTV

CCTV may either miss out certain smoke clouds of it will take them a much longer time to detect smoke. In addition, due to the colour filters, CCTV cameras will find a lack of contrast of the smoke against the green background which forest and bush normally have. This makes the job for a CCTV camera much more difficult, it will take a longer time to detect the fire, if at all.

FireWatch Detection Performance

FireWatch Cost Comparison

Taking into account overall system performance and effectiveness, ease of use, robustness of the product and backing of the German Aerospace Institute (DLR), FireWatch is the lowest risk investment for emergency services operators as compared to other technological solutions.

The key parameters for consideration should be the reliability of the solution when under extreme circumstances like bushfires as well as the cost per square kilometer being monitored, rather than only the initial capital cost of a single system.  Higher quality industrial products manufactured and engineered to emergency services standards, cost more than residential standard products.

Below is an “indicative” cost analysis of a fictitious installation scenario showing two installation configurations for the same site and the direct cost comparison for each.  Please note:  this is indicative ONLY as every installation is unique and needs to be quoted by FireWatch Australia.

The installation scenario below shows a CCTV installation covering 310,000 hectares with 25 systems and 5 control stations versus the FireWatch system needing 10 systems and requiring only 2 control stations due to the in-built AI automation tools within FireWatch, monitoring the same area:

FireWatch Cost Comparison

Cost Comparison*

Investment cost for an area of 3000-5000km2
FireWatch (10 systems)
CCTV (25 systems)
Annual cost for an area of 3000-5000km2
Personal (1 operator)
Personal (5 operators)
Maintenance (10 systems)
Maintenance (25 systems)
Total system cost over an expected lifetime of 10 years


*Costs are approximate only and vary depending on order, size, geographical location, climate and other infrastructure considerations.

*Prices are based on ‘A Strategic Review of the Wildfire Detection’.
Saskatchewan Forest Centre 2004
Operator $25,000 per fire season
Maintenance and spare parts 6% of hardware costs.

Contact FireWatch Australia

Australia needs the FireWatch technology to adapt to the changing climate and increased risks associated with allowing bushfires to get out of control.
We would be delighted to answer your questions and enquiries regarding the FireWatch system.

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