ARSAC Revolutionaries: Moonshot Material
The Evolution of Modern Fire-Fighting Drones
By Valkyrie Holmes
Note: This is the third and final installment of a three-part series. You can view the first and second parts here.
Wildfires have been running rampant in the last decade, with the intensity of these natural disasters steadily growing stronger and more frequent. As the last installment of my Moonshot Material series, I decided to dive a bit deeper into the two college students who started it all and ARSAC Technologies. Special thanks to Suchinder Paul Dhillon for talking with my team and helping us along with this fantastic project.
It first started as a school project for college students Seth Robertson and Viet Tran. These two engineering students from George Mason University stumbled upon an idea by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Industry (DARPA) where they had patented technology to put out fires using sound waves. While the organization saw it as unsuccessful, the two had something else in mind. They tweaked the design and in 2015, got instantly famous.
People all around the world were talking about their invention; sound waves to put out a fire without water or chemicals? Never been done before! They were invited on the news, interviewed in multiple countries, and got offers from people worldwide. They eventually landed on a partnership with ARSAC Technologies.
The Automation and Robotic Science and Artificial Cognizance (ARSAC) startup has been building innovative systems to fight large wildfires. They began creating an integrated system designed to specifically fight large wildfires that rely on arrays of acoustic extinguishers, sensing technologies, an army of ISR drones (stands for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance). Their goal has been to stop fires from spreading and aims to not only detect embers but also track the location and direction of burgeoning fires to prevent them from crossing property lines.
The company began to prototype the technology shortly after the undergrads published their findings. It began with a two-year innovation sprint that ended in January 2021, with the startup proving without a doubt that the technology works and can be applied to various scenarios. Functional products will be out on the market by January 2022.
The X-Prize was the first grant that they got involved in. As part of the challenge, the team is using their drones to detect wildfires. Essentially, they have a km² of space and have to detect whether or not a campfire is lit and whether or not the fire is growing. Using the leftover money, they dedicate it towards building projects for wildfire technology and household fire protection.
When the startup was first founded, they funded everything themselves and since then, a lot of the funding they’ve gotten is dependent on where they’re looking for product placement globally — in the US, investors look more at short term returns, and in Canada, companies are more likely to be able to get grants since the government has specialized grant projects for improving the environment.
They’ve been working on deploying an outdoor prototype but the product coming out next year is the first version of vortex-ring technology that can be used to put out fires. It is a portable plug-in for your kitchen that acts like a handheld extinguisher. They have plans to release it in big restaurant corporation chains by mounting the devices into stove hoods for commercial kitchens. They’ve also planned to partner with FM Global insurance companies to distribute this technology. With the profits from that, they plan to keep testing their wildfire tech in the open air.
“We don’t have the ability to light a wildfire whenever we please. We test in a controlled environment but wildfires are not controlled and will never be,” says Suchinder Paul Dhillon, current CEO of ARSAC Technologies.
There’s currently been a lot of interest from organizations overseas who want to commercialize the product, which gives ARSAC more funding to dedicate to wildfire technology. So far, about a million/year has been dedicated to the drone project and the next big step is to start doing research with colleges to spark more interest in their service. Science motivation and collaboration aren’t cheap, so the corporations wanting to fund ARSAC are also contributing to their amazing progress.
The people who started ARSAC are either ex-military, ex-police, ex-firefighters, or other service-minded people who believe that doing disaster work should be a top priority. Since their idea sprint, Seth and Viet have parted ways but there are plenty of innovative things happening at ARSAC so be on the lookout for updates!
“Unless you want to improve your world, you don’t care about it. accepting it is the first step to not doing anything about it.” — Suchinder P Dhillon
Another huge thanks to my team Jesse Pound, Soliana Fikru, and Taiho H for helping me with research and for everything else with this challenge. You’re the best!
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.