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| May 26, 2019

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XPRIZE seeks high-tech solutions to California’s fire problems

May 14, 2019 |

The fire season is just a few weeks away here in California, and it’s expected to be worse than ever. But there’s a new plan in the works to help catch fires before they get out of control. XPRIZE is organizing a public competition for technology that can quickly find and extinguish wildland fires.

Announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom and XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis on Friday at the Near Future Summit in San Diego, the competition will be open to any company and inventor in the world.

“It’ll be head-to-head between companies, and if one can detect and extinguish a fire in a repeatable fashion, then it becomes technology that every farm, every piece of land [can get],” Diamandis explained on stage. “Let’s reinvent what has been an old form of fire suppression — of people putting themselves in danger.”

Instead of the remote (and decaying) fire lookouts like the one that Jack Kerouac lived in on Desolation Peak, this wildland firefighter turned tech writer imagines Internet of Things devices and satellites helping to pick up even small smoke or heat trails, perhaps combined with some drones that can go dump precision-guided buckets of water.

XPRIZE competitions are designed to attract outside investment for new approaches to major problems, with its ambitious goals typically taking many years for anyone to win. So far, the nonprofit entity has successfully fostered results around space flight, health care and pollution cleanup among many other areas. The fire prize is currently finding sponsors to support the full program and has already raised an initial half-million dollars in funding from Dick Merkin, the CEO of Heritage Provider Network, to develop the plan.

The problem that this prize addresses has only been getting more obvious. Climate change, urban sprawl into naturally burning ecosystems, and an overly successful historical approach to limiting wildland fires have all contributed to bigger and more damaging conflagrations in recent decades.

Today, California is full of kindling-like new plant growth from the wet winter we just had, and it is just about dried out and ready to burn when the next lightning storm, mechanical spark, cigarette butt or willful arsonist shows up.

The winner of the prize will not be able to solve all of the bigger problems, of course, but detection and fast suppressions will at least buy humans time to figure out the other parts while preventing much of the state from going up in smoke.

“Just since 2015 we’ve had ten of the most destructive wildfires in California’s entire history,” Newsom highlighted. “You look at the last 24 months, all those headlines… We lost 139 lives to 16,600 wildfires. We lost over 32,000 structures in this state. [We’re] still trying to calculate the destruction in terms of costs. Just the debris removal costs currently in Paradise… are now close to three billion dollars.”

Meanwhile, like much else in the state, firefighting infrastructure is stuck in the middle of last century.

Gavin Newsom at the near future summit

“I mean, we’re still trying to get old-time cameras out there in the forest,” Newsom continued. “We still have an analog 911 system in the state of California. We have 234 of these Cal Fire forest stations. Over half of them are more than 50 years old, or dilapidated, falling down. People can’t even be pre-positioned out there. It is hard to describe how antiquated we are in this response. The first responders do an extraordinary job, and the mutual aid from around the world is second to none. But we shouldn’t just be celebrating that heroism on the back end. We should be celebrating the heroism and ingenuity on the front end.”

Diamandis offered a few more ideas for what a successful prize competitor might offer.

“You should be able to say in this 500 acres of forest land, there should not be a fire over ten times the size of a camp fire…. If something gets spotted by infrared by satellites, and drones, that is bigger than that, [then] put it out immediately. Autonomously. The concept is a fire detection and extinguishing XPRIZE. Can we find it and put it out before it grows? How it gets put out, is it drones, is water cannons, who knows? That’s our hope, and our working with you, you got plenty of test facilities here.”

He and Newsom also highlighted the economic angles and the physical proximity of the problem, noting geographic areas like the East Bay Hills where (to my knowledge) some of the wealthy and tech-focused Near Future attendees live — which could help with fundraising for the prize.

“They’re not insuring folks in what they call this wildland urban interface any longer,” Newsom noted. “Eleven million Californians live in that wildland-urban interface. You’re seeing your deductibles go up, your premiums go up — or they’re simply not renewing it because they cannot absorb these losses anymore.”

The governor has also been busy debating other ways to plan against fires as he unveils his first state budget. The prize concept, which he has talked about before, is in this light a handy way to save taxpayer dollars, while potentially getting far better tools than the state could build or buy today. If successful, it could also produce solutions for the many other fire-prone parts of the world.


Occidental Seeks to Top Chevron With More Cash, Total Accord

May 6, 2019 |

Occidental Seeks to Top Chevron With More Cash, Total AccordOccidental increased the cash portion of its bid to 78 percent from 50 percent on Sunday and pledged to cover the $ 1 billion breakup fee Anadarko would have to pay for abandoning an already-agreed to deal with Chevron Corp. The heftier buyout proposal came just hours after French energy giant Total SA agreed to buy operations in four African nations for $ 8.8 billion, contingent upon Occidental completing a takeover of Texas-based Anadarko. The Total agreement augments billionaire Warren Buffett’s $ 10 billion commitment to Occidental, which has faced investor criticism for its unsolicited April 24 offer to best Chevron’s takeover of Anadarko.

Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

Unable to Use his Scooter, Disabled Man Seeks Damages

April 30, 2019 |

Stearn Hodge was on his way to a vacation celebrating his 43rd wedding anniversary in 2017, he says, when a security agent at Calgary International Airport stopped him from taking the batteries for his scooter with him. Stearn Hodge lost his left arm and right leg in a workplace accident…

Newsom seeks an explanation for California’s high gas prices

April 24, 2019 |

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to know why California’s gasoline prices are higher than in the rest of the country, blaming potential “inappropriate industry practices” Tuesday rather than the state’s higher taxes and tougher environmental regulations.

Newsom asked the California Energy Commission for…

L.A. Times – Business

FCC chief seeks to deny China Mobile from operating in the U.S.

April 18, 2019 |

The top U.S. communications regulator urged the rejection of China Mobile Ltd.’s application to provide telecommunications services in the American market, opening another front in the trade fight between the world’s biggest economies.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Wednesday…

L.A. Times – Business

FBI Seeks Armed Teen ‘Infatuated’ With Columbine

April 17, 2019 |

The FBI says a “massive manhunt” is underway for a Florida woman obsessed with the 1999 Columbine school massacre who flew to Colorado from Miami Monday night. Dean Phillips, special agent in charge of the FBI in Denver, says 18-year-old Sol Pais bought a pump-action shotgun and ammunition after leaving…


Matteo Salvini seeks to unite Europe’s far-right ahead of EU elections

April 8, 2019 |

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, has launched what amounts to a “Make Europe Great Again” campaign, in an attempt to unite far-right political parties across the continent ahead of parliamentary elections next month. – RSS Channel – World

Bolsonaro seeks to revise how Brazil’s schools teach on coup

April 5, 2019 |

Days after celebrating the anniversary of the military coup that led to Brazil’s last dictatorship, the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is pushing for a revision of the history curriculum for the country’s schools.
FOX News

Biden, mulling White House run, seeks to stem fallout from women's complaints

April 4, 2019 |

Biden, mulling White House run, seeks to stem fallout from women's complaintsThe move marked the most extensive and personal effort yet by Biden to quell the furor ahead of a likely bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In recent days, four women have said Biden made them feel uncomfortable when he touched them at political events in past years. After a former Nevada politician, Lucy Flores, said last week that Biden made her feel “uneasy, gross, and confused” when he kissed the back of her head at a 2014 campaign event, Biden released a statement saying he believed he never acted inappropriately during his many years in public life.

Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines