While most middle schoolers were learning about history and grammar, young climate activist Ryan Honary was putting his passion for STEM to work. Living in California, he witnessed the devastating 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed over 18,000 structures. It led Honary to develop a fire-detection technology to help avoid wildfire disasters in the future. 

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His invention earned the Grand Prize at the 2019 Ignite Innovation Student Challenge. It also established the Early Wildfire Detection Network, for which he was named the 2020 American Red Cross Disaster Services Hero for Orange County. 

Related: He transformed a school bus into an eco-friendly tiny home

Now 14, Honary has achieved more in the way of business development, award-winning ideas and climate action than most people on the planet. His invention caught the attention of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, a non-profit, non-advocacy organization created in 2005 to help preserve and support the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. The organization aims to encourage citizens to connect with the land and facilitates stewardship through landowners in the area. 

A young boy named Ryan Honary squatting on a pavement with multiple fire prevention technologies in front of him

Using AI to prevent fire and environmental threats

In alignment with these goals, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy invited Honary to conduct a pilot project with its support. The goal is to evaluate the potential for the  proprietary AI-driven sensor network technology.

The system will be put to work, testing its ability to prevent fire through detection, measurement, notification and prediction of a variety of environmental threats. For example, the technology monitors air and water pollution and soil moisture levels. It will be deployed in early 2022, with research continuing throughout the year.

“We were impressed with Ryan’s research, and we are excited about its potential to improve our ability to detect threats and monitor our natural resources, which are essential to our adaptive management approach,” said Dr. Nathan Gregory, vice president and chief programs officer of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy.

The emergency detection and response system relies on remote sensors and AI to identify fire outbreaks and predict spread patterns. The low-cost mesh network is easy to deploy and can be placed in remote locations that are otherwise unmonitored. The onboard technology allows communication via an app, to alert scientists and emergency responders. 

What else has he been up to?

In addition to his work with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, Honary won the prestigious Office of Naval Research Naval Science Award. The award came in the form of a grant, which led to the formation of Honary’s company Sensory AI. Since the initial win in early 2020, the organization has issued several rounds of funding to further develop the technology.

Honary was also recognized as a top 30 finalist at the Broadcom Masters. The program, founded and produced by the Society for Science and the Public and the Broadcom Foundation, is the nation’s premier STEM competition for middle schoolers. 

While headlines rage about the costs and loss associated with wildfires, Honary is working to encourage other students to pursue any interests in STEM fields of study. 

“I believe that environmental engineering will be one of the most important fields of my generation, and my hope is that students will be encouraged to pursue it and have the resources to do so,” said Honary. “I am really excited about the opportunity to demonstrate my solution in a larger context, in collaboration with Dr. Gregory and his team, and expect the outcomes to be instrumental in future conservation efforts.”

Serving as inspiration for other youths

In addition to addressing issues of climate change, he hopes to stand as an inspiration for other youths who may not have considered STEM opportunities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2030 STEM occupations will increase by 10.5% compared to a 7.5% growth in non-STEM occupations. That opens the door for innumerable careers for candidates with a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Yet a White House study found that only 20% of high school graduates are prepared for college level coursework in a STEM major. It also found that less than 20% of undergraduates who declare plans to major in a STEM field actually graduate with a related degree. It’s a field of study that’s flooded with potential but short on applicants. And the problem starts early in the educational process. 

The Skyhook Foundation reports only 33% of eighth graders are interested in STEM majors. That might come from a lack of inspiration even earlier in elementary school. Research supports the idea that if STEM topics aren’t engaging, the vast majority of students lose interest by fifth grade. This data highlights the need for access and emphasis on STEM-based education starting early on.

Fortunately for the wildlife and human population, Honary is one of the few who are passionate and inspired about STEM from a young age. When he’s not actively working to save the planet, Honary reports he enjoys tennis and teaches the sport to autistic youth. He also enjoys singing and playing the guitar, as well as surfing the waves in his hometown of Newport Beach, CA. 

+ Ryan Honary

Images via Ryan Honary