Tech Time Warp: A computer program Smokey the Bear would love - 1985

Posted by Lauren Beliveau on Aug 12, 2016 12:00:00 PM

tech-fire.jpgThis week, things are heating up, and no, we aren’t just talking about the August heat. This Tech Time Warp goes back to the summer of 1985, a month after the Amiga 1000 was released. Developed by Jay Miner (the creator of the Atari), the Amiga 1000 was intended for gaming, and it was the first computer to have multitasking abilities. While the Amiga 1000 was trying to set the gaming world on fire, a computer program called Behave started putting out fires by calculating and predicting wildfire intensity levels.

Technology fights fires 

On August 1, 1985, Jim Robbins wrote about the new program in an article for the New York Time titled, Computer Helps Battle Forest Fires. According to the article, Behave needed four pieces of data to create an accurate calculation, “the type of fuel, whether pine needles, large branches, grass or standing trees; the amount of moisture in living and dead plants; the angle of slope, and the wind speed.”

Robbins explained that based on this the computer predicted “how quickly, how far and in what direction the fire will spread, how hot it will be, the length of the flames and how long it will take to contain the fire.” This helped take the guess work out of fighting wildfires, saving both time and effort.


Technology fighting fires today

Programming from Behave is still used today in BehavePlus version 5.0.5, which is a Windows-based program that provides tables and graphs to predict fire behavior. While Behave is still relevant, within the past few years, a software program called RECOVER was released. While RECOVER was intended to be used in the aftermath of a wildfire, the GPS technology allows firefighters to update dangers in real time.

There is some great firefighting technology on the horizon as well. In 2015, NASA developed technology to identify wildfires from space within 15 minutes of the fire starting. This system is called FireStat and uses infrared sensors. Preexisting satellite technology could only relay a few pictures a day, but this new system can deliver an image per minute. While this technology isn’t available yet, it is planned to launch in 2018.   

Plus, to reduce the likelihood of wildfires spreading, researchers are now testing drones that launch flaming balls. As explained in a recent feature from NPR, these drones can create a prescribed fire, which is used as a tool to keep an active fire from spreading, without putting firefighters in helicopters at risk.

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Topics: Tech Time Warp

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