Originally thought up as a fun project in 2017, it was built by the Scion Fire team as a proof of concept to better understand fire behaviour in the flame front zone through direct tracking and observation of flame front passage, something previously impossible.
While in-fire cameras that can survive and record flames have been around for many years, these rely on traditional video cameras (previously VHS, and now action-type cameras) being protected within a fire-proof, heat-insulated housing. As such, the camera has a limited field of view only in one direction, and several cameras are needed to capture the fire approaching, passing by and then moving away (see video from 2018 stubble burns).
The 360° camera (in this case a Garmin VIRB 360) enables views in all directions to be recorded by a single camera (actually two lenses looking in different directions, with the resulting images then spliced together). The real advantage though is the ability of the user to interact with the video, by moving around within the imagery to look in different directions or, for our application, to focus in on specific fire behaviours and flame dynamics. (try it here)
The water-proof 360° camera is protected within a heat-tempered, liquid-filled glass bulb. The liquid absorbs the heat from the fire, so heats up only very slowly stopping the camera from overheating. Several other international research teams have developed similar camera systems (e.g. NIST, USFS).
It is hoped that footage will not only provide valuable data on fire behaviour but may also give the public an opportunity to better appreciate the force and intensity of wildfires.
So keep an eye out for more in-fire 360° footage from our next generation of camera!