Torch builds solar-powered outdoor sensors to quickly detect wildfires

Torch builds solar-powered outdoor sensors to quickly detect wildfires

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The Nest Protect is the best smart home hardware I’ve ever purchased. Not everything in your home would benefit from being connected, but smoke detectors really do. They go a long way in giving you peace of mind when you’re away from home. Hope you never need it, but if you do, it could potentially save lives.

Founded in 2020, Torch brings some of these ideas into a whole different setting. The $299 device is mounted on a spike screwed into a tree, providing early detection outdoors up to 10 acres. This is a huge addressable market, and one that, unfortunately, is only poised to grow in the coming years as wildfire threats increase.


Climate change is the obvious culprit here, bringing droughts and higher temperatures that provide the perfect environment for devastating fires, especially in the western United States. As NASA recently noted:

A study by scientists funded by NASA’s Earth Science Data Systems program, known as NASA EarthData, has found near-exponential growth in the frequency and size of fires across the western United States from 1950 to 2019. The average wildfire in the 1950s was 1,200 acres (485 hectares), but by the 2010s the average had doubled to over 3,400 acres (1,376 hectares).

The idea behind Torch dates back to a few years before the company was founded, when co-founder and COO Vasily Tremsin was still in high school.

“I developed the idea in high school in 2017, as part of a science fair. In my senior year, there were these huge fires in Napa Valley that destroyed half the city Napa,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch. “My school closed for a week because there was so much smoke. It was a horrible situation, people lost billions of dollars in damages I’ve always done science projects to solve problems, and there was no detector like this for the outdoors.”

Michael Buckwald, who helped start innovative peripheral startup Leap Motion, has partnered with Tremsin as co-founder and CEO. Speaking to TechCrunch, he cites his own time in San Francisco as a major driver in his decision to join.

“When Vasya (Vasily) approached me with all the progress and the very unique idea of ​​a distributed approach to a low cost sensor that could be placed frequently, it seemed obvious,” Buckwald said. “I guess I’m drawn to things that can be big business – because there’s a lot of ground to cover, and it’s a problem that’s getting worse, not better – and can also impact over the world. So many deaths and so much of the damage caused by fires comes from secondary and tertiary sources. Deaths are at least 100 times greater because of pollution, the economic impact of pollution and carbon impact The statistics are truly extraordinary.

On-board sensors are on the lookout for heat, light and smoke. When data reaches a specific threshold, an alert is sent wirelessly to the owner’s connected device. Currently, the onboard thermal camera is for detection only, but a future version could bring a live feed, either on the device or via a connected camera (or, perhaps, a drone). The limitations are partly due to power demands. The product is solar powered and implementing too many features will drain the battery.

The devices communicate using radio signals, forming a sort of mesh network that allows you to add dozens or even hundreds of them to a single Wi-Fi gateway.

Torch says it has been validating the technology for some time, through third-party controlled burns. The company notes, “This patented approach has been tested on prescribed burns across California: in Sonoma, Lake, and Butte counties. Verification of results using multiple variables minimizes false positives and ensures accuracy. »

The pre-order of the product opens today. Torch is expected to ship in the first quarter of next year.


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