Two companies have joined forces to use IoT to in an effort to minimise the damage to property caused by bushfires in Australia.

Autonomous software developer Widget Brain has partnered with Australian company Davey Water Products to build the latest version of Davey’s Firefighter range of water pumps.

Dubbed the ‘Remote Start Firefighter’, the water pump can be started via SMS to allow residents and business owners the opportunity to protect their properties during bushfires, without having to be in the area.

The system can also be augmented with optional heat sensors placed around a property that will trigger the pump to activate when it reaches a certain temperature, providing added assurance during times when SMS communication isn’t possible.

During times when bushfires don’t pose a threat, the system can be repurposed for applications such as water transfer and remotely activated tank water replenishment.

Davey’s general manager of innovation Joel Gresham spoke with IoT Hub about the genesis of the project.

“The idea came from speaking with our customers, who were starting to use our products in combination with simple off-the-shelf GSM modems,” he explained.

“The results weren’t ideal, the user experience was clunky, and some customers were needing to modify the pump engines in order to get reliable starting, a practice that could inadvertently void their warranty.

“We decided to look into providing a much more integrated solution that all of our customers would feel confident in using and meet the warranty conditions of the engine manufacturers.”

The first concept build of the product used commercially available 3G modems attached to specially made electric start engines with throttle and choke control, to ensure reliable pump initiation.

Simple ‘start’ and ‘stop’ commands could be issued to the pump via SMS, which Gresham said was a good fit for the product, given the comfort level Davey’s customers have with SMS technology.

The challenge of adding connectivity

The Remote Start Firefighter is now available for an upfront cost of $5500 with a $120 per year subscription for the connectivity capabilities.

Davey initially launched the product to selected Davey Master Dealers, with the intention of performing a country-wide launch in March this year.

While water products are core to Davey’s business, mobile connectivity and subscription fees are not, which is where Widget Brain stepped in, according to Gresham.

“One of the more challenging aspects was around how to capture the required annual subscription fees from our end users,” he explained.

“Operating in a B2B environment, we didn’t have mechanisms to do this easily, and there weren’t really any straightforward solutions available within the existing framework of our business.

“In the end, we engaged with our software development partner Widget Brain, who developed a platform that integrated the SIM management and credit card payments into our business processes.”

Version 2.0

Gresham said that the current version only supports property owner-activated pump control, but he would like to see access to these pumps to be extended to other parties in the future.

“We would be excited to see interest from fire authorities to allow them to activate pumps within an area they decide is under threat, as well as partnerships with bushfire sprinkler companies and organisations,” he said.

Gresham is also looking into other technologies and ideas, such as the burgeoning lower-power WAN connectivity methods and user experience improvement.

“Some of the more interesting technology we are waiting for will be the low-power standards such as Narrowband-IoT or Sigfox,” he said.

“There is also lots of opportunity to further develop the user experience using an app rather than text messages.

“Moving to data also allows us to gather important information from the pumps to help our customers to better understand their water demands and usage.”