Climate & Clean Energy
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Fight Fire With...Vortex Cannons?

Published on
October 10, 2022
Show notes

How lucky are we?

How lucky are we that we live in a time of such great opportunity – when, yes, we’re teetering on the edge of a global climate calamity, still reeling from a pandemic, knowing that our problems and challenges are not only enormous, but systemic, all-encompassing, and often linked together.

How lucky are we to be able to say – look at all of this opportunity, look at all of the ways I could have an impact, need to have an impact, right now?

How lucky are we that so many people, both scared for their futures and emboldened by a feeling of having both nothing to lose, and everything, all at the same time – that they are choosing not to go trade derivatives or build more ad tech, but instead dream?

People, and especially young people, dreaming and actually designing, building, and testing innovative, groundbreaking solutions.

This episode is another in our series of conversations with 776 Foundation fellows and I’m so excited to share it.

Part of the reason I left California was because of the fire risk, to my home and family, the smoke risk, and the drought. I was lucky to be able to leave, but so many can’t. 

Over and over we have been forced to confront fires that are burning bigger and hotter in drier vegetation, closer to where people live. Fires fought by exhausted, underpaid firefighters.

We need reinforcements, we need better ideas, and they need help.

We need people like Valkyrie Holmes.

Valkyrie is the co-founder of Project Firefly, a new company supported by the 776 Foundation that combines drone technology with pressurized air cannons to better contain wildfires. Yes, you heard that right.

In her brief but wildly impressive time as a professional, she’s worked as an intern at SpaceX and in various roles at MIT, NASA, Google, and more. We get at everything from self-confidence to heat signatures and what the hell vortex cannons do – and how they could help alleviate the enormous strain drought and fire are putting on resources the world over.

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Transcript

Quinn:

How lucky are we? How lucky are we? That we get to live in a time of such great opportunity when yes, sure, we're teetering on the edge of a global climate calamity, still reeling from a pandemic, knowing that our problems and our challenges are not only enormous but systemic, maybe all encompassing you could say, and often linked together. How lucky are we to be able to look and say, Look at all these things? Look at this as opportunity. Look at all the ways I could have an impact. Need to have an impact right now. How lucky are we that so many people both scared for their futures and emboldened by a feeling of having both, nothing to lose and everything to lose all of the same time that they're choosing not to just go trade derivatives or build more ad tech, but instead dream? People and especially young people dreaming and actually designing and organizing and building and testing innovative, groundbreaking solutions.

Quinn:

Chipping away at problems that frankly, in totality seem way too big, way too hard. But when broken down, make us feel like Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber. So you're saying there's a chance? Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett and this is Science for people who give a shit. In my weekly conversation, I take a deep dive with an incredible human who's working on the front lines of the future to build a radically better today and tomorrow for everyone. Along the way, we'll discover tips, strategies, and stories you can use to get involved and to become more effective for yourself, for your family, your city, your company, and our world. This is another in our series of conversations with 776 Foundation Fellows and I'm so excited to share it.

Quinn:

Part of the reason I left California was because of the fire risk to my home and family and the smoke risk. I was an asthma kid. And the drought. I was lucky to be able to leave of course, but so many can't. And as we all know by now there will be migration by the millions, maybe billions, but none of us can just run from climate change. But in the west and across the world, over and over recently, we've been forced to confront fires that are burning bigger and hotter in drier vegetation, closer to where people live because that's the only place they can afford to live. Fires fought by exhausted, underpaid firefighters. We need reinforcements, we need better ideas, they need help. We need people like Valkyrie Holmes. Valkyrie is the co-founder of Project Firefly, a new company supported by 776 that combines drone technology with pressurized air cannons to better contain wildfires. Yes, you heard that right.

Quinn:

In her brief, but wildly impressive time as a professional. She's worked as an intern at SpaceX and in various roles at MIT, NASA, Google, and more. I'm such a huge fan of Valkyrie's origin story and perspective on life and how to take on these big scary problems like wildfires. So we get at everything from self-confidence to heat signatures, what the hell vortex canons actually do, and how they could help alleviate the enormous strain drought and fire are putting on resources from the world. You can get at me at quinn@importantnotimportant.com or on Twitter at Quinn Emmett. Let's go talk to Valkyrie.

Quinn:

Valkyrie, welcome to the show.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Thank you for having me.

Quinn:

Hell yeah. Valkyrie, like I said, we did a whole intro, very exciting. And now we're getting into this thing. But I'd like to start with one important question, Valkyrie, to really set the tone here, get us on the same foot. Valkyrie, instead of what's your entire life story? I like to ask why are you vital to the survival of the species? And I encourage you to be bold and honest and have some fun with it.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Oh, interesting. It's a fascinating thing to ask a question like that specifically because my whole, I guess, mantra for life, the thing that I think has gotten me the furthest is the fact that I'm not special. It's the fact that everyone in this world is existing along with everyone else. And I think early on in my life, I grew up in a loving family and I feel like I'm pretty privileged in the fact of my family's middle class and I've had a lot of opportunities. With that came this thought process of, Oh, I deserve this, I deserve all these things I'm getting. And I got to about 16 and I realized that I was so unhappy thinking that way. I actually don't think that I'm vital. It's more just the fact that if anyone's going to do it, why not me?

Quinn:

Tell me a little bit about your parents. What do your parents do? What role do they play in your life?

Valkyrie Holmes:

My dad is actually a craft steeler on the strip. He works at Aria and he's been doing that all of my life for the last 20 years I believe. So he works on the strip and now he's working swing shift, but he used to work day shift so we just come home and he'd be there. And then my mom, she used to work at the coroner's office and then worked at a blood bank and then is now stay at home. But she still teaches beginning piano to the little kids in our neighborhood.

Quinn:

Can you play piano?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah. She taught us originally and then we got a teacher and I played piano for God, it's like 13 years now. We love music, everyone in my family. That's both my parents and they both met in Vegas. They've been in Vegas their entire lives. I was born and raised here. An interesting place to grow up.

Quinn:

It's changed a lot.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah, yeah. No, it's like for people under 21 it's definitely less exciting. But definitely I think the actual environment that Vegas puts you in is just a place where there's so many different kinds of people and I met so many people in school and outside of school just from different cultures and different ranges of experience in life and it's an interesting place. I don't think it's like many other places in that sense.

Quinn:

Sure, sure. Now when you left home recently, did you take a keyboard with you? How do you continue your checking that box musically?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Well it's interesting because so I play piano competitively and then I stopped for a good six or eight months just because I was so burnt out. And then I started learning again and just got back into it. And I haven't played in a little while just because I went to New York and I moved there and then I went to Canada and all of it was me working. In Canada, they had a keyboard there. So I played there a little bit. But it's definitely hard in terms of piano players. I feel our instrument is so huge.

Quinn:

I get it.

Valkyrie Holmes:

I'll play here. My mom is already, you should maybe play.

Quinn:

Made that clear.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah, exactly

Quinn:

Let's go. Right. I love that. I was a percussionist for a very long time and I get it. My obstacle was always, I really loved being the backbone of whatever it was, whether it was orchestra or a jazz band or whatever it might have been, but not the sort of instrument you can break out at a party or there are a variety of percussion instruments where you can create a melody. But like you said, I'm not lugging around a xylophone anytime soon. Nobody just wants to hear a snare drum, that's not fun for anyone, including me. Valkyrie pianist and please correct me everywhere, I'm wrong here. Always wanted to be a chemist, pivoted to engineering and physics and graduated high school a year early. I was just about the opposite of that. Moved out, wrote a bunch, went to a bunch of conventions. You've since spent time at MIT, NASA, Google, SpaceX. Correct?

Quinn:

Raised funding for Project Firefly, which we're going to get into. And then you wrote this whole post on Medium, I think about moving out at 18, living with a bunch of other kids as you put it in New York. I'm not going to call you kids. You called them kids. About how difficult it was when you realized your dad was acknowledging that you were actually moving out, moving out. And how much your mom would always be there for you. And understanding how quickly you seemed to have understood that however much you want to, you can't help everyone. Does that sum up where we are?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah.

Quinn:

First of all, welcome to the climate fight, which is you can't help everybody you want to help.

Valkyrie Holmes:

No, exactly.

Quinn:

Then you found your way to 776. Where are we now? This is a tremendous journey you've been on so far. You've done more in the year since you left high school than I've done in the past 25.

Valkyrie Holmes:

I want to preface everything by saying, I wake up every day thinking about how grateful I am that I got so lucky. I will never take this life for granted again and I did for a long time. My teenage years were rough mentally to say the least and I'm very glad that I could come out of it being so grateful and wanting to take advantage of all these opportunities. And I never want to be in a spot where that's not the case. So I'm just very thankful, I'll just say that right off the bat. I'm very thankful that I've gotten to do all the things that you have just talked about. And I think I was actually, I'm recording a new podcast series right now and I recorded an episode just a few days ago that was revisiting that article and it was essentially me reading it.

Valkyrie Holmes:

I wrote it originally on the plane to Boston right after I had moved out. And I read it again and it seems so sad to me reading it now. Because I end on a note that's like, I'm supposed to be constructive where it's like I can't help everyone. I'm going to continue on with my projects and just see where it goes. And I read that now and I'm like, Where's your imagination? Where's your spirit? And I was just talking about it earlier and even though I can't help everyone, I don't think it hurts to try. And obviously I feel like I'm a realistic, I understand that, that's probably not going to happen. But having the dream of helping everyone and then just giving up and being like, well I'll just help the people that I can. To me it just doesn't process correctly. For me, it's just I'd rather shoot way above where I want to go. And then I'll still land closer to that than if I had just been like, Oh I'm just going to help the people that I can.

Valkyrie Holmes:

For me it's always worked better if I think really positive. I'm the very optimistic one, I'm always like, "We'll get through it, everything's going to be fine. Everything is supposed to work out the way it's supposed to work out, it'll be fine." I read that article and I got sad because I was like, I'm giving up in this article. And to other people that it definitely doesn't sound like that to everyone but to me I read it back and I just thought, this is definitely not you. This is not who you are right now at least. Maybe it was back then, but I think the cool part about reflecting on work that is public is that we are just a changing over time and you can look back on those things and see what that progression is.

Valkyrie Holmes:

And I think it's cool because beginning last summer, I don't even recognize who I was. I don't even know who I was. Like I know I did stuff. But apart from that, my actual being, I just don't remember. And I think that's good because that means that you've changed a lot and I don't know, it's a big ramble but there's just a lot that has to do with that article that I'm very proud of. It's one of my favorite articles I've ever written. I do revisit it and I'm like, that's not me. It's not me anymore.

Quinn:

Well, I think it's helpful to understand that we change over time certainly. There are parts of us that we become more self aware of. We all go through things obviously the past few years have been that way, we've all had our down moments or feeling like we were more constrained or impotent than we thought. What could I possibly do against things like that. It's like when someone comes to me and says, "I read an article that jet stream slowing down. What are we supposed to do about that?" I'm like, You can't do anything about that. Here's what you can do. It's hard. It's hard. And confronting a big new wide world and moving out and doing all these things and hopping around all these incredible places can both open that aperture but also make you feel like, where's my place in all these things? So it's helpful to acknowledge that all you can do is all you can do.

Quinn:

But aiming for the stars, it's always better to start from the biggest shot, like you said. I'm going to be honest with you here, Valkyrie try to do as much research as I can about my guests and what they're working on. And I have to tell you that my baseline understanding of fluid dynamics I think comes from three years of college swimming as far as it goes. And to be clear, it might not be the same thing. All I knew is, you dive in, you swim to that end and then you come back and try not to pass out. There's nothing about wildfires that I remember and it's again very possible, we're talking about two different areas of science here, which is great. So could you please provide an explanation for the people of why you got your fellowship with 776, what you're working on, what Project Firefly is and what do you hope to achieve with it?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah, absolutely. So Project Firefly, it's a company that I started with my co-founder Jesse Pound. And it is essentially us combining drone tech with pressurized air cannons to better contain wildfires. And essentially what that is, why you mentioned fluid dynamics is, water and fluids can move the same as gases a lot of the time. So when you think about rings underwater, for example, when a whale or a dolphin like that blow hole, you blow a ring underwater, you can see the outline of it, that's air moving the same kind of way as water, a fluid kind of motion. And that's essentially the same kind of thing that we're doing with our cannons, which are called vortex cannons.

Quinn:

Really try to paint a picture. Imagine I'm a kindergartner, paint a picture of me of we've got a wildfire, here comes Valkyrie, what's happening, It's early in wildfire, right? We're trying to get ahead of it. What are you doing?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Our drones would survey the land. Usually we have a Bertha drone, which is essentially the main drone that connects to everything else. So we have one drone that circles the forest and if there's any heat signatures, if there's any fire that we spot, then they send a signal to all of the other drones under it and those drones have cannons attached to them that essentially taken outside gases material and force it through this cannon to form a ring. And I can get into that a little bit later. But essentially we're throwing balls of air at this fire to either extinguish it or put up a firewall to be able to essentially stop the fire from spreading before the authorities get there. We're trying to catch things as small as they can because in that case we can extinguish them fully. And we're aiming for it to be more used for containment just because then it's a lot easier for firefighters to fight on the front lines.

Valkyrie Holmes:

It's a lot easier for fires to actually be contained, especially when they spread it around the football field the second, the big ones. And coming from LA I'm sure you've heard of all the California wildfires in Vegas specifically, we're a valley, we live in a valley. So all of the smoke and ash and soot that comes up over the mountains, settles in the valley where it's downtown Vegas where my dad works and all this stuff. And we see the effects of it all summer long. I definitely sympathize with all the people in California that have to relocate and my co-founder, she lives in BC Canada and they have a ton of wildfires up there and her parents are service workers. Like they're police officers and they have to go help out with that stuff so she's directly in it all the time. So it's definitely a scary thing. But that's basically how it works on a very general way.

Quinn:

Two questions. One, this is real, yes, this is something that may actually work because, one of my great privileges in this life among many of them is you are guest number 144, first in our hearts, don't sweat it. But I've talked to some of the smartest people on the planet and I'm relatively intelligent depending on the day in the coffee intake and fairly technical. But yet there are times I talk to people and I'm like, I have no idea where I could possibly begin to build an air cannon, much less strap it to a drone with what I'm assuming is duct tape and then program it to look for wildfires and to tell its friends to come help. We had a guest, two guests once, two women who are pediatric cancer research. So they work on kids cancer, which is truly the most infuriating shit on the planet. It drives me crazy.

Quinn:

They work with a wonderful foundation I love called Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and they do a lot of cutting edge research. And one of the things they explained, and I'll send you the link to the episode and I can't remember exactly their explanation, how to get from A to B. But somehow they use zebra fish to try to solve cancer. And my first thought is, what's a zebra fish? Where do you buy it? What kind of water does it need? Does it need the tank with the light and the little things at the bottom and the rocks? Much less, how do I get to cure cancer? Very confusing. So I'm very excited to hear about yours, because like you said, I was in Los Angeles for a very long time. I'm very aware of the wildfire risk, very aware of the smoke risk, certainly even if you're not in the wildfire area.

Quinn:

We had a great conversation with Dr. Mary Prunicki from Stanford about basically nobody knows more about what's in wildfire smoke than she does. And she was like, all I know is it's real bad and we're trying to find out how much worse it is than that. So, this seems very important. How did you come to this? Why did you come to this? Of all the different ways you could apply yourself, why wildfires? And then we'll get to the drone stuff.

Valkyrie Holmes:

My background in specifically climate change and wanting to make a difference environmentally started with food. So I had a big bout with eating disorders in the past and I switched to being vegetarian to almost fuel that eating disorder. But then upon doing more research and watching a lot of these documentaries, I realized that the meat industry is just not the best for climate.

Quinn:

That's an understatement. Continue.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Exactly. I haven't eaten meat for the last three years and that's where my love for the climate started. I mean I've always loved animals and I love nature, but around the same time I started taking a lot more walks and Vegas is not the greenest place, it's definitely desert territory. But the places that are green here, I love so much and I love lakes and part of the reason why I love the east coast is that, it is so green. I have always loved nature. My friend Jesse and I, we were doing this hackathon with the Knowledge Society, which is a student accelerator program for kids like, 13 to 18 that want to do something that changed the world and they're a really crucial part of why I even am here. It's a great program and if anyone has kids they should put them in it because it's great walking advertisement for TKS.

Valkyrie Holmes:

I joined that program and we were doing a hackathon for them and the hackathon was surrounding moonshot technology, which is essentially technology that might not be possible now but with an effort it could be possible in three to five years. So we were looking around and Jesse actually stumbled upon this research paper by these two graduate students at Georgia Tech who were researching how to put fires out with sound waves. And they used a little cannon and a little speaker on the back of it and were able to put out a small fire as their grad project.

Quinn:

Again and pardon my language here, but truly Valkyrie, what the fuck? All right, we might as well do this. How does it work? What are we talking about? So you've told me I remember lying on the bottom of the pool, my friends and blowing the air bubble like a whale or dolphin. Super cool. All right. How big is the drone?

Valkyrie Holmes:

So the drone is 15 feet diagonally.

Quinn:

So not small.

Valkyrie Holmes:

They're huge. They're pretty big.

Quinn:

Is Bertha by way of its name larger or just in charge?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Just in charge. They're all the same size.

Quinn:

And how autonomous are these things?

Valkyrie Holmes:

They could be fully autonomous but we're trying to figure out a way for the data collection and surveillance thing to be fully autonomous and then for people to be able to take a hold of it and the drones in the swarm if they need to move things or-

Quinn:

What if they come after us?

Valkyrie Holmes:

It's good to have that kill switch.

Quinn:

So yeah, 100%, 100%. I think my wife wants one from me. Is Bertha you said earlier is constantly sort of, well at least you said looking for heat signatures. Are you sending Bertha, "Hey there might be a fire or there was a lightning strike, which is a lot of the problems or transformer exploded because PG's a nightmare?" Or is Bertha just constantly hanging out looking for these things? How does the surveillance part work?

Valkyrie Holmes:

We envision Bertha as what are the driest places by satellite imaging that are happening right now? And then we'll send Bertha around that area. It's a lot of combination of data science that we're trying to use to easily facilitate this technology. And we basically sent her into the driest places or the places that are most likely to catch on fire.

Quinn:

Sure. And there's so much more data about that stuff now. I mean one of the exactly groups I worked with in California was sort of the workforce that came together to figure out how the hell they're going to keep ensuring homes and businesses and all these things because the reinsurance market got involved and was like this is not great, it's not going well and it's something they have to figure out or else people can't live there. They can't own homes, they can't own businesses, wineries, all this different stuff. Because like you said, now we have all this satellite data that can tell us very accurately and with heavy recency basically this is what's driest today. This is like you said, what's most likely to burn. So when there are potential lightning strikes or an explosion or whatever it might be, we can tell where that might happen basically.

Quinn:

So what you're saying is there's not like 40 Berthas just hanging out around California at all times. You're day to day theoretically there's a few of them looking for these things. And then how far away might Bertha's children be? I don't know how we're describing these other ones.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah. I mean we honestly don't really know what we call them. They're just the other drones.

Quinn:

Great. Okay.

Valkyrie Holmes:

We envision that as they're located just at a local fire station or a fire department and then they go to wherever Bertha needs them to go. We're testing a hydrogen fuel cell battery powered system. Because the only way for them to really be sustainably up there and fighting is right now with gas. So they're gas powered drones just because they are so big. So that's why we're testing a new power source to make it completely green and that's essentially, they can run on six hours with the actual gas in them, but hydrogen fuel cell we're predicting it'll be around eight.

Quinn:

Oh great. I mean often with battery density where it is you're seeing shorter shelf life, so that's actually great. I was going to say this might be one of those places where it just makes sense to use gas if they can be up there longer. Because I can imagine the goal is to be effective, it's not trying to save the environment with the drone. We're trying to literally save the environment with the drone. Do this direct thing. So let's talk about this cannon. Vortex cannon, which if you said those words to my children, they would imagine something completely different. You already kind of described it. Tell me what it looks like and of front to back. I was looking at one of the blueprints online and very confusing. So subwoofer in the back, what's happening?

Valkyrie Holmes:

There's three different parts to a vortex cannon. There's the sub woofer, which is basically on the end. And first off I should say the cannon itself is maybe five or six feet, or actually it's been six to eight feet recently because we were testing that. And it essentially goes from a wide neck to a slightly smaller neck. And on the back of it there is the subwoofer, which is essentially a low frequency speaker that oscillates back and forth that can take in outside air and shove it through this cannon at high enough speeds. And so that's basically just moving back and forth very rapidly so that the air can be taken into the cannon. And you can imagine it kind of like a speaker from, I mentioned those two graduate students that were fighting wildfires with sound. We pivoted from that just because they were using actual decibel values where you could hear it. And it just turns out that you can get the same effect with just air. So there's no decibel value involves there really. Or if it is, it's very, very small.

Valkyrie Holmes:

This Speaker also is back and forth and takes in air along that side. So you can basically act like it's opening, air goes in, it closes, air goes through the cannon. So it just goes very fast that way. Does that make sense?

Quinn:

I mean I'm sure a lot of people it does, but I'm a moron. And then it takes the air and it shoots it out the front in one of these ranks.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yes. Essentially when this air is going really fast through this cannon. The cannon itself is getting smaller and smaller and smaller to the point where this air gets concentrated into a fast moving ball. And when that ball exits the cannon hits a lip, which is called the baffle on the end of the cannon that curls the ball in on itself to form a ring. So essentially what's happening is, we're taking in all this air very fast through this cannon and the cannon is getting smaller and smaller and smaller and concentrating all of this air into one ball and then when it exits, hits this little lip and it curls. So it's basically if you have a scrunchy or something, it's basically you're rolling that scrunchy. If you had it in a ball, you're rolling it out to be a scrunchy, if that makes sense.

Quinn:

Sure. Now you're talking my language. I got an eight year old girl I know about scrunchies.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Any woman or man that's ever played with a scrunchy, you roll it, you crunch it up, it's just easy to visualize I guess. And so what that scrunchy does is, when it exits the cannon, it goes in whatever direction that you angle it at. And when that comes in contact with the fuel base of a fire because it's constantly moving in the same way that the air is being taken in. So-

Quinn:

The fire you.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah, yeah. So because that ring of air is moving very fast rapidly and it's oscillating back and forth, we took the air in that will push and pull on the fire's fuel base and basically disrupt a bunch of different legs of this fire triangle to extinguish that fire. The ring itself is just constantly moving. If this is the ring, it's constantly moving within it. So it's a 3D model.

Quinn:

The ring that we've just shot out of our cannon is constantly moving?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yes. Yes.

Quinn:

How is it still moving once we've shot it out?

Valkyrie Holmes:

It's basically the laminar flow of the air. Which is just like, it's just another way of saying the air moves in one direction. So the air, when it shoots out of this cannon, it's not getting shot out of the cannon stops it from moving, it just concentrates it in a smaller radius and then it's able to continue to move. So we're basically just powering up this ring to be able to shoot out of this at high enough speeds to where it disrupts a fire.

Quinn:

How big is our scrunchy? When you say it comes to a small neck, is our scrunchy the size of my microphone? Is it the size of my head? Give me some perspective.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Well the actual ring itself will be larger than the smaller end of the cannon just because of the force that it takes to actually rip it apart essentially. The ring itself is probably two of your heads put together. So maybe four to six feet, I would say.

Quinn:

My head is large. I don't know if it's four to six feet doubled, but we'll take it. Two questions. Is our vortex cannon air coming in from the subwoofer, flap flap flap. Going in, shorter neck, coming out, scrunchy flipped over, towards the fire. Is that happening once a minute, like a 17th century musket? Or is this happening 100 times a second? Again, low perspective is pew, pew, pew.

Valkyrie Holmes:

It's happening essentially once every second. So that air is coming in very fast. The speaker is or the subwoofer in this case is also very fast. So we're able to concentrate that pretty rapidly and then shoot that through.

Quinn:

And Bertha and her swarm, how many are there shooting once per second towards a fire?

Valkyrie Holmes:

So that depends on the fire. We kind of envision it to be closer to 20 drones that can handle a big fire. But again, it's like we're trying to make it so that frontline workers don't have to be right up against a fire and we want to be able to push it back. So each drone basically covers like 25 feet linearly and a hundred feet in front of it. So we're trying to push back a fire, essentially if we have 20 drones and we have a giant firewall that we're trying to create, we'd line them up about 25 feet apart and we'd be able to contain that much of that fire. And that's essentially, again, that's what we're trying to do. And frontline workers right now are on the fire with hacksaws and bulldozers and it's just so unsustainable and so dangerous.

Quinn:

And it's mostly prisoners being paid a dollar an hour.

Valkyrie Holmes:

We've been doing that for 40 years. I don't know how no one has done anything about that.

Quinn:

Sure. It's like chemotherapy or how we used to cut people's legs off to stop an infection. You're like, "It worked however fairly barbaric and we've got to be able to do better." Last perspective, contextual question here. Are our 20 Bertha and her 19 teammates shooting once a second each? Are we shooting at the flames? Are we shooting down at the root of this thing where the fuel is? Or is it both or somewhere else?

Valkyrie Holmes:

It'll kind of come in contact with both, but a lot of it is aimed directly at the fuel base. So the base of the fire, and the reason for that is essentially, we're trying to knock out two legs of the fire triangle here. So fire triangle is heat, oxygen, fuel. And when we shoot this ring at this fire, when it comes to contact with the fuel base, it can strip a lot of that fuel off of it because it is just a really forceful blow to the actual base of the fire. So that right there is knocking out a leg with fuel so that the fire has nothing to come back to. But then also because it is a forceful blow of air, it's disrupting the actual oxygen molecules that are continuing to fuel that fire. So the fire actually, if it does make its way down to the fuel base, it has nothing to grow from.

Valkyrie Holmes:

So a lot of it is just like when we take in outside gaseous material, that could be also smoke, that could be soot, that could be a little bit of ash. All of that stuff that isn't necessarily, that's all dead material that's not going to help a fire grow. So all of it kind of compounded makes it a lot more sustainable for us to use technology within whiles fire fighting then just like people on the front lines.

Quinn:

Valkyrie, you realize this is really fucking cool. Right?

Valkyrie Holmes:

I am so excited. Quinn I am so excited, it's like my favorite thing I've ever worked on.

Quinn:

So many incredible people out there doing... So many things we always say in the front lines of the future, but what they're really trying to do is help people or help nature, which we just need a drastically better relationship with. We are of it we're we don't get to just use it. But at the same time, this all plays into our culture, in our economies. You were just in Los Angeles, I could barely afford to live there anymore, so much less so many people there do service work that are profoundly less privileged and well off than we are. So they're moving out of the cities, but they still have to work in them. So they live in these, what they call urban wildlife landscapes, the interface, right? Because that's the only place they can live. But of course those are drier and they're hotter and so we're having more fires and deadlier fires again, as usual, the caveat fires are good, fires important, they've been happening for a very long time.

Quinn:

There were thousands of years of Indigenous people that started them and managed them in a very effective, important way that preserved and enhanced and helped the forests to flourish for everyone, for the forest for themselves. That's not what we're talking about now obviously. And more and more people and structures and things like that are under threat. And because it's burning people and structures and cars and things like that and roads, as I talked about with Mary Prunicki, there's things that are burning, that are even more toxic than we could imagine. When asphalt burns, we don't really know what that does to our lungs. Or some of the materials we're using in these buildings, much less the old buildings that have asbestos in them and things like that. The point is what you're doing here is very important and could be very impactful. That's why I think it's very fucking cool.

Quinn:

What does success look like for you? Is this your company that provides these things? Do you just sell them or do you operate them? Do you sell them to fire departments? Do you sell them to Cal or the state of Nevada? Do you operate as a third party, as a private that comes in to support all of these firefighters? How does this work for you?

Valkyrie Holmes:

So right now we're still testing, so we haven't entered the-

Quinn:

Of course. I'm just saying let's dream for a minute.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah. That's my specialty, Quinn. You know me.

Quinn:

I do. Let's do this.

Valkyrie Holmes:

So success basically, we want to roll this out in the next two or three years. We have testing that we're doing right now that will essentially give us the guidelines to be able to teach other people how to use this technology. So a lot of it has to do with, if we envision it like, we are giving these people this technology and we're selling this technology to them with a guide that says this is how you operate these drones, this is how you operate the cannons themselves, these are the best angles and a lot of that will be autonomous, but this is essentially how you do this and we want to see it work. And we will eventually put together a pilot program most likely for the state of California and do all of these tests in real time. And that's how we envision it moving forward.

Valkyrie Holmes:

We want everyone to have access to this technology and that way if we just set out a guidelines thing for how you use it and how you monitor it and just how that would all fit together, I think that broadens the amount of reach that we have. I would love to be out there doing stuff all the time, but I also know that it's definitely a better situation if we give people the tools and teach them how to use them and then let them spread that around. That's my dream.

Quinn:

I think it's incredible. What are your biggest obstacles right now? You said testing, you're about to get that going again.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah, yeah. So I mean we don't really test during wildfire season because it's a lot drier, it's a lot hotter. And because we are essentially setting fires to test on, we don't want excess embers or excess dryness or hotness to be the cause of another wildfire that takes frontline workers off of the real fires that are already happening. So around beginning of October, we're going to start testing again with our prototype and that'll be all on the east coast. That's not really an obstacle now, but just during the summer it's slower. And then now it's just we're planning to raise in the next year. So funding is definitely something that we are looking forward to raise it. We've never raised really, we have support from 776 Foundation and they've been so good to us and now it's just preparing to do a lot more testing and get a lot more people on board and that's the main obstacle. I'd say testing is just challenges will come up as we go, but right now we have a pretty set method.

Quinn:

And is it still just you and your co-founder?

Valkyrie Holmes:

It's us and then there's this company that we're partnered with called EVOEMS and they're essentially the people that provide us with a lot of the hardware. So they're a drone company first and they've been working on fire suppression tech, so they've helped out with a lot of the testing and stuff like that. So far it's been them in New Mexico and Virginia doing a bulk of it. So it's like five other engineers along with my co-founder.

Quinn:

Valkyrie, when you go back and you read your article that you wrote and you were a little bummed, you are so animated talking about the potential of how it works and explaining to idiots like me, how it works and the effect it can have and understanding the scope of anything with climate or COVID or public health, whatever it might be. These huge systemic issues mean there's huge opportunities to do things we could have never imagined to actually build something better for more people. Do you feel like you're on the right path now, when you think about doing this work? Does this make you feel like you're aiming higher even though there's a very good chance it fails? Might just not work. Might not put out fires, might not extinguish and might not even contain them, but what if it does? Does that make you feel like that's you?

Valkyrie Holmes:

I act like I've lived all these years of experience when I say stuff, but a lot of just me growing up was me not really thinking that good would come of things that I did. And being in competitive piano and being in orchestra and all these things, growing up in Vegas where a lot of people don't leave Vegas, Vegas is just, you grow up here, you get a job here, you build a family here. Being in these places where I was exposed to this life of, oh whatever you do, it's not really going to make that much of an impact, you should just settle. I feel like for a long time I just thought that I was just very negative and I didn't want to take advantage of the things that I was being given and it was just not the best mindset to be in.

Valkyrie Holmes:

And now knowing that even if this doesn't succeed, that I learned so much from it and I created just this whole... We just built this from scratch and with all these people along the way and I met so many amazing people and knowing that if that doesn't succeed, I'll just start something else. I have a lot more hope for the world and for my dreams and for everyone else's dreams. And I think every day I see more and more that people are tired of the way things are being done and they're aiming to do something bigger and I think that's so cool and so I'm definitely very happy, I'm probably the happiest I've ever been, which is awesome.

Quinn:

That's pretty rad and I think it's going to be inspirational and instructive to a lot of folks, both old and young. So on that note, we like to really hone in on specific ways our listeners can get involved, if that's a possibility or just support your mission in some way, even if it's just following along. Someday that might include fundraising when you get Bertha under control. But also again to inspire and instruct them on their own path of people going, frankly, most of the time what can I do? So in your case, are there specific ways folks can follow you, support you, get involved, and then any other lessons you might impart to folks out there?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah, absolutely. So Project Firefly, we have probably every social media under the sun. You can visit our website, projectfirefly.ca. We have a lot of cool information there and if you guys have any questions you can also reach out. I think it's just great that we're trying to put this out into the world and let more people know about it. And if this doesn't succeed possibly, maybe someone else listens to this idea and is like, "Wait, if they did that, maybe I could do this other thing that I read about this other thing." So it's really just trying to get this idea out there, just following us and if you have any questions, just reach out and we'll be updating everyone through those mediums. I have a personal podcast that I talk about a lot of these things on and I'm just starting a YouTube channel again. So all of that is a mix of my life and what we're doing and how Project Fire is going. So if you like to check any of those out, that'd be great.

Quinn:

I love it. Any specific other tips or lessons that you might want to impart on Valkyrie from two years ago?

Valkyrie Holmes:

I think I'll just reiterate, you're not special and the things that you do with your life are going to mean so much more when you let go of those expectations that you are. And I don't think a day goes by where I wish I was special. And I think having this idea in my head that everyone is trying to live life in the same way, not just to survive but to live. And I think that's a good thing to keep in mind and the fact that if you want to do something with your life, don't expect anyone to hand anything to you. You got to go out and make your own future and improve your path and keep growing from everything that you want to continue to live and be.

Quinn:

I love it. Valkyrie, I have a few last questions I ask everyone and then we're going to get you out of here because you got fires to put out. Quite literally. When was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful? And that could be last week, it could be when you were in fourth grade, could be winning a student election, anything like that or with your crew stood up to a bully?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Honestly, I'd say it was two years ago. When I was 16, I started on this whole personal development, self development journey. I just started getting involved in a lot of different things. And like you said, you mentioned in the beginning, I had always wanted to be a chemist, but I had no idea what being a chemist meant. I was just like, "Oh, that sounds cool." And so I started actually looking into it and I was like, "Oh, I actually don't like this at all." Kudos to people that can sit in the lab like that.

Quinn:

No, that's great for them.

Valkyrie Holmes:

I just cannot. Around that time I had participated in a few hackathons and wasn't getting anywhere. And then I had won a hackathon for the first time when I was 17 with my friends at TKS. And for the first time it was something surrounding education, it was VR embedded education, this idea that we came up with and pitched. And for the first time I was like, oh, this is what it feels like to be a part of something that you really believe in. Every other project since then, I think school does a good job of introducing you to things but not so much reinforcing that love of learning. So just being a part of something that I really believed in that I wanted to see make change, I think that's probably one of the first times that I realized that it was even possible.

Quinn:

I love that. Thank you for sharing that. Valkyrie, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Valkyrie Holmes:

I'm going to shout out David Goggins for a little bit. Because I love that man.

Quinn:

Holy shit. That guy doesn't pull any punches.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Oh my gosh. So I ran a marathon in November.

Quinn:

Congratulations. Where?

Valkyrie Holmes:

I did it in the back country of Nevada. It was like this trail run-

Quinn:

Organized or you just wandered out and ran marathon?

Valkyrie Holmes:

It was organized. It was organized. One of the toughest things I've ever had to do. David Goggins, ever since I saw him and listened to him a year and a half ago, he's ingrained in my mind. Every time I do something, every time I feel like I'm just cruising by on life, I'm just like, "Oh sure, I have to do a marathon. I have to do some random endurance thing that pushes me-

Quinn:

Right. Let's watch a video of him doing 700 pullups in a row while he yells at you.

Valkyrie Holmes:

No exactly. I read his book Can't Hurt Me, which if no one has, you should definitely read it, it's amazing. But he has this kind of thing that he says where he's like, "There's the man that my dad created, that's David Goggins, and then there's Goggins who I created." And so when I was running my marathon, I'm like, this is Valkyrie, this is the girl I created. I've used that mantra, I use that throughout my day to day life. I just love that kind of thing. And if I feel like I'm not pushing myself harder, there's 50% that I'm not even using, that whole... He is just such an inspiration to me and I love that man.

Quinn:

He is something else. I once ran by him in Central Park inadvertently and was just like, I mean, he's exactly what he looks like. I mean, it's incredible. It's incredible. I mean, his story is wild, wild. Valkyrie it sounds like running might be part of this, but what's your, as we call it, sort of self-care when you're like, I can't look at drones and fires anymore.

Valkyrie Holmes:

For me, it's like right now it's writing. I'm trying to write a book this year and I'm brainstorming stuff for that. I'd always love-

Quinn:

Fiction, nonfiction. What are we talking?

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah, it's fiction and it's basically, you can think of it as the Matrix meets Black Mirror almost.

Quinn:

Into it.

Valkyrie Holmes:

It's like an intricate almost interdimensional story. I'm brainstorming it all right now, laying it all out. So that's really fun for me to do. I love video games. I have two younger sisters and an older brother. We all have grown up with video games. My dad's a very heavy video game guy, so there's this game called Cuphead, which if anyone knows it's the most infuriating game, but somehow I just love it. It's just so hard to beat. But I like playing that. And obviously music is a lot of what I do and I love playing piano and I play cello for a while. My cello is actually just right over here and I just love listening to music. I made music for a while, did electronic beats, I did a 30 day challenge on that and now my 30 day challenge is chess, so that's kind of therapeutic as well.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Nice. So it's just a lot of random things. So whatever I decide, I do a lot of 30 day challenges that are pretty nice for me to just open my day with. Right after this I'm going to play some chess. So there's a lot of cool things that I like, but I think above all it's just hanging out with family and friends and being present in the moment. And exercise definitely is something that I really value and I love going to the gym. I love doing all these things, I don't even really like running. It's just when I feel like I'm not doing enough. It's just like, okay, I have to start running again.

Quinn:

I get it. A lot of folks have love hate relationship with running. I get it. It's hard to ignore the benefits once you've done it, but my God, those first steps out the door, I'm like, What if I just never do this ever again? Yeah. Valkyrie, last one. What is a book you've read in the past year or so that's either opened your mind to a topic you haven't considered before or it's actually changed your thinking in some way?

Valkyrie Holmes:

One of my favorite books of all time is the Song of Achilles, and it's a book by Madeline Miller about this boy Achilles and his friend Patrick Cliff and their whole love story growing up together and them fighting in this giant war. And it's such an amazing book. And I read it last December right before the new year. And I finished the book and I had a bunch of books that I wanted to keep reading. And so I finished it, put it to the side, started reading this other book, and I'm like, there's something that just like I cannot focus on this book right now. So in my classic style, I talk to myself a lot and record it. So I pulled out my phone and I started talking and I was just crying. And I just realized that this book talks a lot about the themes of love and learning to love every side of someone.

Valkyrie Holmes:

And I realized throughout that book that I was like, "Oh, this year I've learned to fully love myself." And I think that's such an interesting thing to stumble upon. It's like, oh yeah, of course you like yourself. But it's like, am I doing everything be purely because I want to do these things or because I'm being influenced by other people that might not be in my best interest. And I realized throughout the last year, I was like, "Oh, I love myself." And that's like a crazy feeling to think after being so negative for so many years. And so that book just opened my eyes to that possibility or just made me aware of that possibility that I had truly opened myself up. And to anyone that wants to read an amazing book, anything by Madeline Miller is amazing. But specifically that book is just awesome.

Quinn:

I love that. Thank you for sharing that. That was very touching and vulnerable, but also inspirational. I think there's a lot of folks that have obviously struggle with loving themselves and believing in themselves and having that confidence. And I've certainly been there. It's a wonderful book. It's truly, like you said, anything Cersi is also fantastic. And for a different taste, David Goggins. Throw them all together.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Yeah, definitely.

Quinn:

Valkyrie Holmes, this has been fantastic. I really appreciate it. You were so patient trying to explain to me how air works, which is something you think I'd understand by this point. So thank you. Couldn't be cheering more for you. This is a delight. Can't wait to follow along. See how Project Firefly goes. All your testing, please don't blow anything up that you're not supposed to blow up and we'll check in. We'll put everything, all the links in the show notes and all that jazz. And that's it, we're going to let you get out of here. Thank you so much for your time and everything you're trying to do. This is a big deal.

Valkyrie Holmes:

Thank you so much. I had so much fun and I'm excited to see where everything goes, so thank you.

Quinn:

Awesome. Thanks for listening to the show. A reminder, you can send feedback or questions about this episode or some guest recommendations to me at questions@importantnotimportant.com. Links to anything we talked about today are in your show notes in your podcast player. If you want to rep any or your giver status, you can find sustainable t-shirts, hoodies, and a variety of coffee delivery vessels in our store at importantnotimportant.com/store. You can subscribe to our critically acclaimed weekly newsletter for free at newsletter.importantnotimportant.com. Our theme music was composed by Tim Blain. The show was edited by Anthony Luciani and the whole episode was produced by Willow Beck. We'll see you next time.

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