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Startup creates robot to ease impact of forest fires

Reporter: Cathy Yang 丨 CCTV.com

06-08-2015 05:28 BJT

A Hong Kong startup has taken a huge step towards the problem of forest fires on the Mainland by developing a robot that can detect the blazes before they get totally out of control.

Ensconced in a district known for its thriving, though hidden local arts scene in Sha Tin is a homegrown Hong Kong start-up that has made its name developing a robot that can detect wild fires on the Mainland before it’s too late.

Founder Rex Sham set up Insight Robotics in 2009, after two failed start-ups. Alongside partner Kevin Chan, they created these robots, which can pinpoint fires on the Mainland before they spread, and alert firefighters.

Forest fires contribute 20 to 30 percent of global carbon emissions each year.

"In a random discussion if water does not work then let’s go fire. And then we go do some research and then we find out forest fire is the largest carbon emissions source in the world. It really is a serious issue if carbon trading is coming into practice and that is a lot of money actually," Sham said.

Nearly four-thousand forest fires on the Mainland were recorded in 2013, reports the State Forestry Administration. Catastrophic wildfires meanwhile tend to recur and cause extensive damage in other countries, including Canada, the U-S and Australia.

Seventy robots have since been sold to 10 cities on the Mainland since 2013. The business for forest fire detection on the Mainland over the next decade is worth over eight-point-one billion U-S dollars, says Sham.

The firm is attracting investors. It secured an extra two million U-S dollars of financing last October. The robots will soon be available in Mexico in Indonesia. The next big thing launches later this year: drones for commercial use.

"If there is a sick tree or an insect invasion, the photosynthesis activities of the oil palms will change so we detect the changes in activities and then we can plot the map for the farmers or the plantation owners to show them which part of the plantation is having problems," Sham said.

Beyond the firm's aim to save the environment is its resolve to inspire entrepreneurs to launch their own start-ups - in a city they’ve come to know as a hotspot for nurturing creative thought. 

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