Fire plays an important role in the lives of humans. In the past, it was used as a source of energy for cooking, heating and so on. Today, it is still being used for these purposes. No doubts, fire is an integral part of our lives but can be dangerous when out of control.
The focus of this article is going to be on some of the best fire fighting robots that are being used by firefighters to put out dangerous flames and to enter dangerous areas. Also, we are going to see if robots could take the place of firefighters.
Every year, properties worth billions of dollars are destroyed by residential fires; wildfires engulf thousands of acres of land, causing serious damage. Thousands of people lose their lives to residential and wildfires annually.
Irrespective of the dangers posed by fires, brave men and women have dedicated their lives to protecting others from fires that are inevitably going to occur at any time.
While firefighters are brave and self-sacrificing, they aren’t superheroes. They are humans and can succumb to injury or death.
A report from the National Fire Protection Association shows that 29,130 injuries were reported while firefighting in 2015 alone. These injuries are coupled with 69 on-duty death. The risks associated with fire fighting is what has prompted the government, safety professionals and high-end tech companies to come together to make firefighting machines or robots that can perform tasks that are too risky for humans.
Table of Contents
Technology and fire fighting
Firefighting robotic systems are designed to carry out the following tasks;
- Controlling and suppressing fires
- Locating and analyzing fires
- Monitoring hazardous variables
- Search and rescue
Like fire alarms and automatic sprinklers, fixed fire fighting robots are used in hazardous and populated areas to extinguish small flames before they spiral out of control. These robots rely on simpler systems relying on infrared and ultraviolet detectors to detect fires.
Mobile firefighting robotic systems, on the other hand, are controlled from a remote location. They are usually in the form of remote vehicles with advanced fire suppression tools like foam or water hoses among others.
These high tech robots are capable of entering areas that are unsafe for humans. They use sensors like IR, visual camera and other advanced sensory technologies that can effectively transfer information for navigation to an operator.
Safety engineers are presently experimenting with drones and close quarters indoor robots that can extinguish fires at close range.
The following are some advanced firefighting robots that are presently being used in different part of the world to fight fires. With these robots, the number of fatalities and injuries caused by the fire is definitely going to reduce.
This was originally a small tank designed exclusively for the United States army by Howe and Howe Technologies. This remote controlled vehicle fitted with a heavy duty hose that is capable of pumping 500 gallons of water in a minute.
The mounted camera on it makes it easy for the team controlling it to navigate through rubbles and put out flames quickly. The vehicle can travel into a very dangerous situation like industrial and wildfires while being controlled from a safe distance away.
The Thermite Robot weighs about 1,640 lbs and was designed with a high tech IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) neutralizer. To prevent it from overheating and ultimately become engulfed in flames, it is built with premium quality fire-resistant materials. Even more, it has an onboard cooling system that keeps it in a stable temperature range by using some of the water in the water pump as a coolant.
Although its pump doesn’t pump as much water as a fire engine (1,500 gallons per minute), it cost less. The future of Thermite robot is indeed a bright one. In years to come, it is likely going to be used in putting out forest fires because it is rugged and can enter hazardous areas without putting anyone at risk.
TAF 20 (Turbine Aided Firefighting machine)
This high tech robot was created by Emicontrols, a subsidiary of the TechnoAlpin group. The robot is designed to use a turbine as a method in fighting fires. Unlike other fire fighting robots that are created to put out forests and industrial fires, the TAF 20 is meant to be used in small spaces that may be too small for larger robots to enter. The TAF 20 is fitted with a powerful bulldozer blade that can be used to move or remove heavy obstacles from its path. With the help of the turbine in the robot, it can effectively clear emanating smoke. It also has a high powered nozzle that can be adjusted to a different intensity that can be used to put out large and small fires.
This high tech fire fighting beast is a tracked vehicle that uses the turbine embedded in it to atomize water into a large mist that covers a large area using less water. While the water in the device can be atomized into a mist, it can also be focused into a powerful jet that can spray up to 3,500 litres per minute. Operators can control the device from 500 meters away. Just like other fire fighting robots, the TAF 20 is restricted due to its connection to a hose.
The Fire Ox is a high tech first response fire fighting vehicle. It is one of the few fire-fighting vehicles that have a water tank. The vehicle is designed to handle dangerous materials, suppress fires, and assist in rescue operations. It was initially created by Lockhead Martin as a support system for soldiers for assisting soldiers with their gears. It was fitted with an averaged sized water tank and a long hose for distribution.
The Fire Ox is a semi-automatic vehicle that can be controlled from 200 miles away.
THOR, which stands for-Tactical Hazardous Operation Robot, was put together by (SAFFiR) the United States Navy’s Shipboards Autonomous Fire-Fighting Robot Program. The robot is capable of moving in unstable areas that are unsafe for humans to enter. It is equipped with a special hose for putting out flames. Unlike other fire fighting robots out there, the THOR can effectively open doors. Initially, it was used in Navy ships that have hazardous materials onboard with little room to move.
This humanoid robot is about 177cm tall and uses a high tech stereoscopic thermal LIDAR and imaging sensors for navigation. Over the years, this robot has been used to put out deadly compartmental fires. These high tech robots were created for one purpose- to put out flames with the help of a remote operator.
While this high tech robot is like a beast especially when it comes to putting out fires, it has a few issues. For example, it is slow and susceptible to water and fire damage. The team that put the robot together are presently working hard to resolve these issues so that it can extinguish flames too dangerous for human firefighters to approach.
The development of robotics in fire fighting
High-tech fire fighting robots are still being perfected so that they can be used in putting out small residential fires and large infernos without taking too much damage. Occupational safety professionals are presently working hand in hand with government agencies to make futuristic technologies come to life. In years to come, these technologies will protect firefighters from very dangerous fire situation.
Since the safety of the helpless victims caught in fires and that of the brave firefighters doing all they can to rescues these people while putting out the flames is paramount, the production of these high-end robots is forward. They have the ability to withstand intense heat and smoke that is hazardous for people. Even more, they can prevent serious damage that may be incurred by traditional fire suppression methods.
Will robots take the place of firefighters?
With the increasing rate of residential fires in certain parts of the world, aging infrastructure, and destructive wildfires, the job of firefighters are becoming more and more dangerous each day. Whether it is a fire in an old residential building, an intense industrial fire or a wildfire, firefighters are risking their lives to rescue the injured while putting out flames. Often, these brave men don’t know what they are working into when they attempt to rescue someone or put out a fire.
Most times, the structural integrity of the building entered has been altered negatively because of the intense heat. Even when knowing that the structure may collapse, they still enter to save lives. When putting out fires in industrial plants, firefighters risk being exposed to toxic chemicals. Sometimes the fire is just so intense that, firefighters cannot get close enough to it to put it out.
Fire fighting robots
With robots gradually creeping its way into the law enforcement realm, it is only natural that they are used to fight fires. Below are some special humanoid robots that were developed over the last couple of years and are presently being used to save lives and fight fire efficiently.
The Walkman is a humanoid robot that was designed and tested by the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia. This impressive Italian robot isn’t called the Walkman because it can play music, but because it is like a human that can secure unstable parts of a building and extinguish flames until it is safe enough for firefighters to go in.
The walkman can enter a burning building, detect the major hotspots and put out the fire in those areas. Just like other robots out there, the walk-man can go into a situation that is too dangerous for human firefighters.
This impressive robot weights 220 pounds and can stand 6 feet tall. Also, it can carry heavy objects for long distance and has a built-in battery that can last for 2hours.
The special 3D laser scanner, cameras and microphone sensors embedded in the robot help it to navigate and access emergency situations. It can also be fitted with chemical sensors if there is a need for it.
The walk-man collects high-quality images of the area or building it is deployed to and sends them back to the human team controlling it. This remote control is carried out by a trained human to operate using a suit that has a sensor and a virtual interface, which allows them to relay action in real time to the avatar like Walkman.
While the Walkman is still in its development phase, it has passed all its tests with flying colours. In the future, the walkman is likely going to be mass produced and used by firefighters in putting out deadly flames and entering unstable and dangerous areas.
The Smoke Bot
The smoke bot is a small but powerful firefighting robot that was created at the Orebro Univesity in Sweden. Members of the rescue units in Germany and Dortmund cooperated to put this robot together. The specialty of the smoke bot is mapping and navigating areas that humans cannot see because of heavy smoke or dust and large robots cannot access.
As you probably know, restricted visibility can affect the performance of firefighters. It is difficult or impossible for fighters to navigate through a building that is filled with heavy smoke or dust. In such blind situations, the smoke bot function has the eyes of fire-fighters, as well as, rescue operation teams.
The operator of the robot plots a map of the robots surrounding and send the report to firefighters to help them navigate safely. The smoke bot is equipped with a laser scanner, 3d thermal camera, and a combination of gas sensors. The gas sensors can effectively detect different types of gasses; it can also calculate the concentration of the gas in question and access the risk of a gas explosion.
Unlike other robots, the smoke bot can be controlled via wifi.
The smoke bot is not ready for public use yet as it takes about 20-30 minutes to collect data. Once researchers improve the efficiency and processing time of the tech, it will be a valuable tool in saving lives and fighting fires.
The tanklike RS1 heavy duty fire fighting robot was made in the US. It was designed to reduce the exposure of firefighters to extreme fires, usually from chemical leaks, explosions, and even worse, nuclear meltdown.
The RS1 was made from premium quality steel and aluminum that allows it to withstand intense heat and temperature. The robot has an impressive multidirectional nozzle that can shoot 2500 gallons of water per minute. On the average, it will take about 8 men to control the force created by the pump’s power but the RS1 handles it on its own.
The beastlike robot has a zero degree turning radius, high-intensity lightning and can be controlled from 1000 meters away. With the help of the widescreen camera that is fitted in the robot, operators can get a clear picture of what is happening around it via live video feed.
The creator of this robot, howe, and howe see their invention fighting the kind of fires that are likely going to spiral out of control or when there might be an explosion. They also see it being used in putting out chemical fires and airplane fires.
Unlike other fighting bots that are still under development and testing stage, the all-terrain RS1 is available for sale and surprisingly it cost less than a fire truck. Presently, the RS1-T3 is the number one firefighting robot in China.
While residential fires can be easily put out by firefighters, fires in some locations like flammable liquid storage areas, nuclear power plants are too dangerous for humans to enter to combat flames. Toxic gases present in these areas may negatively affect the health of firefighters.
It was for this reason that fire and rescue organization decided to create the MVF-5 (AFRV) Autonomous Firefighting Robotic Vehicle.
The MVF-5 was manufactured by the reputable Croatian manufacturer DOK-ING. The FireRob or the MVF-5 is a unique firefighting vehicle that is can be controlled by a single operator. This heavy duty fire fighting robot is designed to extinguish fires without the intervention of human firefighters with pressure cannon on a hydraulic arm that can pump water from 55 meters away.
The onboard tanks of this beast can take up to 600 L of foam and 1,800 L of water. DOK-ING the creator of this robot said they got the inspiration for the design of the tanks from video games.
This hardcore firefighting machine can be used in locations where firefighting vehicles cannot enter. The robot is powerful enough to climb and move through difficult terrain and tow objects to safety and push obstructing objects clearing a path for regular firefighting vehicles.
It can punch through objects like walls and lift, grip, and remove obstacles and objects with a special blade tool attached to the front of it.
The high-temperature resistant and fire protection shield that is used to cover the robot was made from intumescent materials that expand and become denser when exposed to fire or intense heat. The new report from the DOK-ING the creator of this robot shows that the multilayer coating of the FireRob can withstand 400degree centigrade for 30 minutes and 700 degree centigrade for 15 minutes, making it suitable for extreme temperature areas. DOK-ING officials say that it can get closer than other firefighting vehicles. It can also be remotely controlled by a trained operator at a safe distance.
A special software package based on pattern recognition algorithm was created that can effectively recognize the presence of humans by a thermal camera mounted on the machine.
Not a replacement
While these high tech fire fighting robots with a lot of impressive features are effective especially when it comes to putting out flames, they cannot replace human firefighters. They are created to aid firefighters to save lives and fight fires.
Since risks cannot be totally eliminated in the event of a fire or an emergency, it is critical that government and tech companies come together to create high tech fire fighting robots that can help save lives.
Fire fighting drone
Generally, firefighters have 3 main goals – extinguish fires, save lives and to protect and save physical properties. Over the years, firefighters have been using low tech tools like – ladders, trucks, hoses to fight fires and save people. But fire fighting drones is going to change all that.
With the rapid increase in traffic, taller residential and commercial buildings, urbanization, and many dangerous substances being used in building and construction, firefighters are looking at advances in drone technologies to help them fight fire better and faster.
New technologies like heat-resistant materials, autonomous and swarm operation, gas and electronic sensors, longer air time and improved range are presently being added to high tech drones to help human firefighters put out fires quicker.
How drone is being used today
According to a report from the centre for the study of drones at Bard College, about 900 plus local and state police, emergency and fire service agencies in the United States are actively using drones to facilitate their operations. About 186 of these agencies belong to the EMS or fire department.
Firefighting drones equipment modifications
In order for a commercial drone to effectively fight fires, it has to be modified and fitted with certain equipment and modifications. Below are a few of them;
- HD cameras that can easily identify codes on packaging or products on packaging to determine dangerous and flammable goods
- Thermal cameras to identify hot spots and fire sources
- Special mist distributors that automatically spray a cooling mist to let drones and human firefighters get closer to a fire
- Infrared cameras that can easily detect animals and humans
- Large extinguishing agent tanks that can carry, water, foam, powder, specialized liquids
Types of firefighting drones
Presently, there are eight types of firefighting drones that are effectively put out flames in the event of an emergency.
developed exclusively for firefighting Aerones,
- DJI Zenmuse Z30
- DJI Inspire 1
- FlyByCopters Thermal Surveying X8
- Yuneec Typhoon H
- Freefly Alta 8
- DJI Zenmuse XT
- DJI Matrice 210
980 feet in six minutes
Latvian, a reputable drone company have developed a high-tech firefighting drone that can climb 300 meters or 980 feet in just six minutes, which exceeds the reach of regular ladders (typically no longer than 29 meters) and ascend faster than a human firefighter
Here are the specifications of the Aerones drone;
- Close proximity (it can reach 980 feet or 300 meters to a fire)
- Optional use of special firefighting agents and foam
- Development of spray A- a special chemical mix to maximize spray pressure and weight.
The company behind this Aerones drone is also developing two other drones – The first one is a very fast drone fitted with 28 propellers that can carry 441Ibs max and can achieve heights of 300meters.
The second one is also a super fast drone, fitted with 36 propellers; it can carry 300kg (max) and can reach a max height of 500 meters
Keeping them flying
Just like a regular drone, battery capacity is the major limiting factor with firefighting drones. With increased air time and fire extinguisher agent payload, companies are looking at developing a hybrid drone engine system that can recharge while in the air.
An engine and mechanical system of a hybrid drone is a far cry of a regular commercial drone. You see, these hybrid drones use an internal combustion engine to power a small generator that charges the batteries of the drone. Drones with these engines are likely going to be larger and with a bigger payload.
As drone technology quickly advance, we would expect to see new applications of firefighting drones in years to come.
Here are some innovative ways drone could be modified to perform better;
- Close range extinguishing with advanced heat resistant materials
- Quick and accurate detection of toxic substances, humans, and animals
- Smart drones and robots that can prevent fires from breaking out or put out small fires before they spread or spiral out of control
- Guiding humans to safety through sound and lights
For larger fires or wildfires, it is possible that a swam of drones could be operated together, respond collectively, avoid dangers and obstacles, collectively respond to stimuli, share data and make instant decisions.
Not too long ago, a group of researchers published the research in the SRJ (Science Robotics Journal) that explicitly demonstrated how large flocks of drones could be used in the outdoors and confined spaces. The research demonstrated how these drones can exhibit flocking behaviours like those seen in birds.
In the future, drone swarm may be used in firefighting.
Four ways drones will be used in the future in fighting fires.
Making smart and informed decision usually means collecting as much data as possible, especially for people in charge of sending boots on the ground. It makes sense, to use firefighting drones to get a clear picture of a fire situation before developing a firefighting strategy.
Thermal cameras could be the most useful aspect of drones when it comes to firefighting, as they can accurately point hotspot area as well as cool areas, look through heavy smoke and dust and other visibility reducing element, thereby aiding firefighters in deciding the best way to address a fire situation.
Drones can be equipped with high tech gear that can be used as floodlights during night missions, assisting firefighters on the ground with improved visibility.
Search and Rescue
Even if you have not been following the drone industry closely, you may likely be aware of the active role drones are playing in search and rescue operation. UAVs give operators a bird’s eye view of an area. They can provide important data from a safe distance.
Time and again, missing people have been found by drones. Not too long ago, an 81-year-old woman, who was lost in North Carolina cornfield, was found by a drone. Also, Scottish mountain rescue team found missing hikers with the help of drones.
During the LA wildfires in 2018, authorities complained about recreational drones retarding their search, as well as the rescue efforts of firefighters. This should never happen, and drone owners need to learn to keep their drones away from fire areas.
However, drones are very powerful and effective tools especially when it comes to surveying a fire that is growing out of control. In the hand of a trained operator, a drone can be used to re-assess the areas on the ground that are dangerous and the areas that require quick attention. It is sort of a tag team operation, between the eyes in the sky (drones) and human firefighters following the data driving directions from drones.
Drones can capture HD images and footages throughout a post-disaster scene. The Federal Aviation Administration has embraced the use of drones in post-disaster assessment. Reputable companies like Rocketmine among others are using drones to assess its operations by analyzing the post-disaster footage and gathering data-driven accounts.
In firefighting, drones can accurately analyze the damage, spot survivors, and utilize the recording of the footage for re-evaluation and training purposes.
Fire fighting technology has gradually evolved since the early 1600s. Back then, there was no personal protective equipment. Buckets and other crude equipment were used to put out flames.
The same cannot be said today. The rapid development in the tech industry has given birth to high tech gears like thermal imaging cameras to help firefighters access a fire situation, fire fighting robots that can enter areas too dangerous and unstable for human firefighters, drones to get a birds-eye perspective of what is happening on the ground.
Presently, firefighting robots and drones are being modified and fitted with advanced tech so that they can play an active role in firefighting.
Read how to install properly fire detection at home.