Researchers at RMIT have developed technology that can detect which types of trees and plants are more likely to cause powerline faults, potentially sparking bushfires.
Many of Victoria’s deadly Black Saturday bushfires were caused by powerline faults when tree branches made contact with powerlines.
The technology developed by Dr Yidan Shang and Nan Li can be used by power companies or manufacturers to detect and alert operational managers to the presence of vegetation on a high-voltage bare-wire powerline. This in turn can reduce the risk of bushfires developing.
The research recently won first prize of the Vegetation Detection Challenge organised by the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP).
The Vegetation Detection Challenge was established by the Powerline Bushfire Safety Program (PBSP) and tasked four teams to develop an algorithm to detect which plant species could cause bushfires on powerlines.
"Different vegetation species have different behaviours after touching a powerline. This results in the risk level of a bushfire developing being different depending on the species of the vegetation," said PhD candidate Nan Li.
The PBSP undertook significant research and development with a specific focus on looking at the patterns as well as the different fault signatures which come from different types of vegetation when they come in contact with bare line powerlines.
"Using the large amount of data collected through the Vegetation Conduction Ignition Testing project, we found patterns which we could model with," said Dr Yidan Shang, Research Fellow in the School of Engineering.
"We developed a machine learning technique based on the Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) architecture that can successfully identify what species of vegetation could pose a fire risk in touching the powerline."
"Congratulations to Yidan and Nan on their win of the Vegetation Detection Challenge," said Associate Professor Sherman C.P. Cheung from the School of Engineering.
"Their research is just one example of RMIT working with government or private organisations to develop solutions to help the community."
As the winner of the challenge, Shang and Li have received $10,000 in prize money, as well as the opportunity to further develop their research.
"I’m excited that we won the first prize because the government will support us to continue working on this project," said Li.
"The development of this research will continue to make communities safer from bushfires. It could potentially be implemented not only around Victoria, but also around Australia or even the world."
Story: Melinda Crighton