The 2020 Good Tech Awards

Due to climate change, we are likely to see many more forest fires as they burned the west coast this summer and displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. But in the years to come, we might be better equipped for this thanks to tools like Perimeter, Technosylva and Ignis, three startups trying to modernize the firefighter’s outdated arsenal.

Perimeter, a small start-up in the Bay Area, makes collaborative mapping and data exchange software for rescue workers. Its founder, Bailey Farren, is the 24-year-old daughter of a retired fire captain and a medic. After she and her family were forced to evacuate during the 2017 Tubbs fire, she saw the need for a better communication system than the radios and paper cards that rescue workers often used. The perimeter app, which fire departments can use to exchange evacuation routes and security updates in real time, is being tested in California cities such as Palo Alto and Petaluma. The company plans to expand to other states soon.

Updated

Dec. 30, 2020, 7:16 am ET

Technosylva, another California start-up, makes predictive modeling software that fire departments can use to calculate where a fire is going, how fast it is moving, and what weather patterns could affect its path. The software is used in nine states and has helped the California Department of Forestry and Fire Safety predict the trajectory of forest fires this year. This saves valuable time for those trying to put out the flames.

Ignis, developed by Drone Amplified, a Nebraska company, is used for “mandatory burns” – small fires deliberately set in the path of a larger wildfire to steal its fuel. The system attaches to a drone and drops small arsonists known as “dragon eggs” from a safe height, at a much lower cost and at much lower personal risk than a helicopter. Ignis was deployed to fight fires in Colorado, California, and Oregon earlier this year and recently partnered with the US Forest Service.

When George Floyd was killed in May, many tech companies ran out of Silicon Valley to show their support for racial justice. However, many of these companies have continued to manufacture products that endanger black communities – be it by amplifying misinformation, using biased artificial intelligence, or perpetuating racism in their workforce.

This year I was more impressed with the community’s efforts to support Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements by using the tools of technology to hold institutions accountable. One of those efforts, Our Data Bodies, is an educational project run by researchers and organizers in Los Angeles. Detroit; Charlotte, NC; and other cities. It worked to teach color communities how their personal information is collected and used by technology companies and government agencies. This year, virtual training sessions were held for community organizers to teach them how to use potentially harmful technologies such as facial recognition.

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