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Wildland Fire Sensors Challenge

About the Challenge
Sensor system to measure air pollution during wildland fires

Posted By: Environmental Protection Agency
Category: Scientific/Engineering
Skill: Engineering Interest: Science & Research Partnership With: Forest Service
National Park Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Submission Dates: 11 a.m. ET, Apr 06, 2017 - 5 p.m. ET, Nov 22, 2017

The winners of the Wildland Fire Sensors Challenge

will be announced on September 12, 2018, at the

Air Sensors International Conference

in Oakland, California




Challenge Summary:

Federal, state, local, and tribal agencies are interested in new ways to monitor air quality during fire events to better protect public health. Air quality managers and public health officials have limited access to accurate information on ground-level air pollution levels in the vicinity of wildland fires, making it difficult to provide appropriate strategies to minimize smoke exposure. Most air pollution monitoring equipment is large, not easily transportable, and complex to operate. Today, emerging technologies – including miniaturized direct-reading sensors, compact/powerful microprocessors, and wireless data communications – offer the opportunity to develop new systems to quickly gather and communicate air pollution data.

Wild fires are increasingly common events that produce significant air pollution, posing health risks to first responders, residents in nearby areas, and downwind communities. Also, wild fires are increasing in frequency and intensity, and the fire season is growing longer.  Prescribed fires, which are used to manage ecosystems or reduce risk of wild fires, are typically managed to minimize downwind impacts on populated areas; however, people in close proximity may still be exposed to smoke.  The description “wildland fires” refers to both wild and prescribed fires.

This challenge seeks a field-ready prototype system capable of measuring constituents of smoke, including particulates, carbon monoxide, ozone, and carbon dioxide, over the wide range of levels expected during wildland fires. The prototype system should be accurate, light-weight, easy to operate, and capable of wireless data transmission, so that first responders and nearby communities have access to timely information about local air quality conditions during wildland fire events.

Logos - United States Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, U.S. Forest Service, National Parks Service, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Submission period has closed. For reference purposes only:

Step 1: A written preview of the proposed solution addressing specific Solution Requirements presented in the Challenge. The written preview, expected to be about 3 pages, should include a brief description of the measurement principle for the four target pollutants, size (weight and dimensions), power requirements, maintenance procedures, data communications, and cost estimate for a production scale, turn-key sensor network kit composed of six sensor nodes and one central data receiving unit. You should also include a photograph of the prototype sensor system (not part of the 3 pages above). This preview will be reviewed to ensure the proposed system can be accepted for laboratory evaluation.

Step 2: If the proposed solution is accepted for testing, the Solver will provide:

  1. A prototype sensor system capable of rapid deployment and continuous monitoring of air pollution during a fire event. The system should include a central data receiving unit and at least two nodes that collect air quality and location data that is transmitted back to the central receiving unit on a 5-minute frequency. The central data receiving unit may be cloud-based if FedRAMP compliant (
  2. Supporting documentation, including the following: 1) Operation manual with sufficient detail for an end user to independently operate and maintain the sensor system, 2) Description of any potential safety hazards were the system to be exposed to fire, and 3) Cost estimate for a production scale, turn-key sensor network kit composed of six sensor nodes and one central data receiving unit


The Challenge award is contingent upon qualitative evaluation and experimental validation of the submitted Solutions by the Seeker. The maximum award for meeting all the requirements is $60,000. If more than one meets all the requirements, the Seeker will decide on a winner that best fits their needs. In the event that no solution meets all the requirements, the Seeker may, at their discretion, give partial awards to those submissions deemed promising from a minimum of $10,000 up to $50,000.

In addition to the potential award, all Solvers providing prototypes will directly receive information on their system’s laboratory test results as well as qualitative feedback by air monitoring experts. If the system proves to be reliable and useful, deployment of a larger-scale sensor network is anticipated as part of follow-up projects measuring smoke impacts during wild and prescribed fires.

Solution Requirements: Specific requirements for the sensor systems, such as pollutant detection limits and precision and accuracy targets, are provided in the challenge description (see

Eligibility: Any sensor developer or researcher is invited to participate in the Wildland Fire Sensors Challenge. International submissions are welcome. There are some restrictions for federal employees and others with work already funded by a federal agency (See eligibility criteria at

To receive an award, the Solvers will not have to transfer their exclusive IP rights to the Seeker. Instead, Solvers will grant to the Seeker a non-exclusive license to practice their solutions. See for details.

Written submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on November 22, 2017Late written submissions will not be considered. Once the written submissions are received, the Seeker will request prototypes and provide directions for shipping after the above deadline. Prototypes along with supporting documentation must be received by the Seeker by January 5, 2018, for testing.

Informational Webinars for Potential Solvers:

May 8th at 1:00 pm Eastern (5:00 pm GMT): and Audio: 1-866-299-3188, code: 919 541 1894

May 16th at 8:00 am Eastern (12:00 pm GMT): and Audio: 1-866-299-3188, code: 919 541 1894

Questions about this Challenge? Please direct any requests for clarifications and additional information about this challenge to As the administrator for this challenge, InnoCentive will contact the federal partners, as needed, to answer your questions and will also make the responses available to all registered solvers if they provide relevant additional information. To submit your questions to InnoCentive, register for the competition at the InnoCentive website. Registration is free and easy. Once you have registered, you will be able to see the full details of this challenge. After reviewing the full details, if you still have questions, InnoCentive provides each registered solver with the ability to submit their specific questions to the challenge administrator.


Key Prizes $60,000.00 This challenge will award $60,000 in cash prizes, and laboratory testing reports will be provided to submitters. The maximum prize for a solution meeting all challenge requirements is $60,000. If no solution meets all requirements, partial awards from $10,000 to $50,000 may be given.

13 Discussions for "Wildland Fire Sensors Challenge"

  • We were just notified of this today, 2 days before. :( However, we have an interesting solution for those who want to do PM25/10 monitoring cheaply using the PurpleAir sensors and our software Email if you need details. Good luck all!

  • Show Replies [+]
    Colin Terry
    I was wondering if anyone can answer this question for me. When the submissions are accepted,are they evaluated as soon as they are received or are they evaluated at the November date? Thanks

    • Reply
      You are welcome to submit your written response earlier than the November 22nd deadline, which will allow us to review and respond along with shipping information sooner. For example, if you were to provide your written submission in late-August, we expect to be able to respond within 1-2 weeks. Any prototypes arriving early will be safely stored at the EPA research laboratory to await testing, that will begin after the challenge closes in January.

  • Show Replies [+]
    Colin Terry
    I'm wondering a few things, what is that $40,000 number for? The cost of manufacture or the cost of purchase? Also, what I the simulated smoke that is going to be used to evaluate the devices. Thanks for any input.

    • Reply
      $40,000 represents the projected cost to purchase the sensor system, consisting of 6 sensor nodes and a central data receiving unit. The devices will be tested by burning wood in small and large combustion chambers, and exposing the devices to levels of smoke that will produce concentrations of pollutants approximating the ranges specified for each pollutant.

      • Reply
        Colin Terry
        Thank you for the response. I apologize for my confusion, so they will not be using simulated smoke, but they will be burning wood and simply exposing the device to a known amount of smoke? I have another question. Will these be deployed outside of cell signal range, or is using a cell signal connection reasonable?

  • Grobarge
    Additional information on the inclusion of ozone and CO2 in the Challenge: Regarding ozone, one of the use cases of this technology would be to understand general air quality in downwind populations. These may be in areas lacking in nearby air monitoring stations altogether. Ozone and PM2.5 generally drive the air quality index and public health messaging regarding air quality in the United States – therefore, the rationale for including ozone is primarily from a public health and multipollutant air quality perspective. We agree with the potential challenges with ozone detection and see this challenge as encouraging technology development. The full challenge description at indicates that the review of submissions will place highest priority on the PM2.5 measurements, followed by CO, and then O3 and CO2. Regarding carbon dioxide questions, the specific target detection ranges are available at and these ranges should be interpreted as the total signal, inclusive of background CO2. One could envision that if you had a network of such sensor nodes, one may be situated upwind of wildland fire smoke to quantify background levels.

  • Show Replies [+]
    David Young
    Perhaps between them, engineers currently working at the CDC, EPA, USFS, NASA, NOAA, NPS could simply develop a drone capable of carrying the uHOO monitor which seems to meet all the sensor requirements and has a WiFi transmitter. At only 200 grams weight that would plenty of capacity to add a battery power source and still be carried by commercially available drones

    • Reply
      Creativity is certainly welcomed in developing solutions for this challenge. However, please read through the detailed description of the challenge available at You will see in that detailed write-up the "Things to Avoid" includes "Systems that do not collect ground-level point measurements in a stationary fashion (i.e., optical remote sensing, aerial platforms).

  • grobarge
    We received this question: why are ozone and carbon dioxide included as components of this sensor challenge? Answer: Ozone is included as a target pollutant due to the interest of knowing the combined impact of smoke impacts in addition to regional air pollution in downwind communities, based on conversations with stakeholder groups. Additionally, carbon dioxide values are included as part of this system to provide an estimate of combustion efficiency (when combined with carbon monoxide) which indicates whether impacts are related to different combustion phases (flaming to residual smoldering). As described in the evaluation section of the Challenge, (see, PM2.5 and carbon monoxide are recognized as of higher importance.

    • Reply
      Good questions! Details about the Challenge, including specific requirements for the submission, and a date for a webinar will be announced when the Challenge opens on April 6.

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