Home Feature This Scientist and Engineer are Taking to the Sky To Better Understand Wildfires on the Ground

This Scientist and Engineer are Taking to the Sky To Better Understand Wildfires on the Ground

by Maija Ehlinger

Mother Nature is certainly unpredictable. But the team behind WindTL, assembled through Georgia Tech’s Female Founders program, is working to bring some predictability to the study of wildfires. 

That is important science, says Yana Bebieva, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech and scientific advisor with WindTL. It’s not enough just to say that an area is dry with high winds and therefore has a high probability of a fire breaking out. “Firefighters need to know where the firefront will be in two hours. The reason we don’t have this type of model now is that we don’t have the observations,” Bebieva told Hypepotamus. 

To gather those observations, WindTL is deploying autonomous drones to “follow” a fire and collect valuable real-time data about the state of the flames. The drones rely on mathematical modeling, developed at Georgia Tech, in order to properly follow a developing firefront from the air.

Traditionally, fire crews have had to rely on fixed stations and satellite data, which ultimately don’t give a full picture of how a wildfire is behaving at any moment. 



WindTL, short for wind intellect, may have been born in academia, but it has some important real-world applications for the coming fire season. Bebieva said that customers could include not only be first responder groups and governmental agencies, but also insurance companies and private companies in the property protection space. 

WindTL was born when Rocio Frej Vitalle, founder and CEO of Tampa-based Improving Aviation, turned to Georgia Tech’s Female Founders program to expand her current business and further explore fluid dynamics in the atmosphere. There she met, virtually at first, postdoctoral Bebieva, a climate scientist with a focus on fluid dynamics. 

WindTL has submitted its provision patents and is currently a business line under Improving Aviation. 

While the Southeast might not seem like a natural first spot for a fire-focused startup to launch, Bebieva said Florida’s use of prescribed burns makes it a good spot for testing the new drone technology.



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