Robot firefighters in the defense of human values

Global climate warming as a threat

Global climate warming in recent decades is causing more fires, loss of life, and chaos worldwide. They are the reason for the evacuation of entire communities, and millions of people are instructed not to go out into the midday sun.

The fire season of 2021 has been called apocalyptic... Giant new fires start every day, causing emergencies and mass evacuations worldwide. According to the NIFC, 37,803 fires occurred in the U.S. in 2021, burning more than 3 million acres of land. Thirty-two thousand fifty-nine fires burned 2.1 million acres of land during the same period in 2020. Idaho had the highest number of large fires at 23. However, Oregon burned the most acres with 554,587 of the 11 fires.

Scientists predict that fires will only get worse as our civilization progresses. In North America alone, the average length of the fire season has increased by nearly 20 percent over the past 35 years, and the area affected by fires has doubled.

Robots improve firefighting efficiency

Innovations already being used around the world will help improve firefighting efficiency. A tremendous opportunity in fighting and preventing forest wildfires and large-scale urban fires has opened up with the appearance of fire robots on the market.

The stardom of the Сolossus-firefighter


firefighter robot Colossus


The Colossus robot became famous for the Notre Dame cathedral fire. It was directly involved in extinguishing. The machine is remotely controlled by firefighters and is connected to water via a fire hose. The Colossus' central purpose is to extinguish fires in buildings where there is a possibility of collapse. That was precisely the situation in the Norte Dame de Paris Cathedral, with which the robot coped perfectly well. The main limitation of Colossus is its control range - only 300 meters.


Trends in the evolution of firefighting tools

Trends in recent years in the evolution of firefighting tools aim to use clever machines to assist worldwide since keeping firefighters alive is one of the significant tasks besides localizing the fire itself. It requires technology that can save the lives of professionals fighting fires.

The current robotics and artificial intelligence development allow using improved tools and technologies today, such as drones, interactive fire danger maps, real-time warning systems, smoke projections for active fires, and computer models that predict where the fire may occur next.

Crisis Map for wild fires

So, an interactive map was developed that informs residents of approaching fires. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection used it in the summer of 2018 during a natural disaster called Carr. This tool listed all active fire hotspots that the fire department responded to.

A Crisis Map also can provide data on air mass conditions - smoke, wind speed and direction, evacuation plans, fire containment statistics, road closures, forest shelters, and other important information needed to respond quickly to a coming disaster. The map is constantly updated to give people the information they need.

Firefighting drones around the world


firefighting drone


Authorities in different countries are not stopping looking for new opportunities and improving technology to help predict and prevent fires. For example, in addition to interactive maps, "Eyes in the Sky" technology is already being used. Various aircraft help to localize forest fires: planes, drones, satellites. They predict possible hotspots in the early phases and provide information about those currently raging.

The Los Angeles Fire Department first used drones in 2017. A quadcopter was launched into the sky and flew over the fire, which had destroyed several structures by that moment. Cameras on the drone investigated the damage and got an accurate idea of further containment.

In 2018, China commissioned its first firefighting drone. The device is used not only to extinguish fires but also to lift hoses to the correct height and for surveillance. Since then, other parts of the world have also started using unmanned fire trucks.

The Latvian company "Aerones" designed the unmanned aerial vehicle that works in a different principle. It is equipped with 28 motors that lift to 300 meters in height. A fire hose is connected to the drone, and the last one can extinguish fires even in the most inaccessible places via a gun barrel.

The "Lockheed Martin Aircraft Corporation" created the "K-MAX" unmanned firefighting helicopter with a carrying capacity of 2,700 kg. It is expected to be assisted by a "Stalker XE" aircraft-type drone. The latter determines the coordinates of the fireplace with an infrared camera and transmits them to the synchroopter. The helicopter then extinguishes the fire from altitude by independently drawing water.

Fires in confined spaces

In a building fire, drones are used for several purposes:

  • Reconnaissance. A drone can quickly fly around a burning building, transmitting images through a camera to rescuers. This approach not only helps locate the main foci of combustion but also helps locate people even in low visibility conditions, thanks to thermal imaging.
  • Extinguishing. The apparatus is equipped with a supply of extinguishing agent that extinguishes the flames on site.

A bird's-eye view of a fire

The experience of using drones came from the Emirates. When firefighters in the United Arab Emirates were battling a blaze in a skyscraper, they turned to an unlikely helper: a drone. The drone helped raise the firefighters' hose to the correct height, allowing them to direct water at the fire more effectively. This example highlights the potential of drones to assist firefighters in their efforts to extinguish fires. By providing a quick and easy way to transport firefighting equipment, drones can help firefighters save lives and property. In addition, by giving firefighters a bird's-eye view of a fire, drones can also help them to identify hotspots and develop strategies for extinguishing the blaze. As drones become more widespread, it is likely that firefighters will increasingly rely on them to help them in their fight against fires.

In fields, forests, steppes

In the event of a fire, every second counts. That's why firefighters are always looking for new ways to extinguish fires quickly and efficiently. In recent years, drones have become an increasingly popular tool for firefighting. These unmanned aerial vehicles can reach places that would be inaccessible to fire trucks and fire hoses, making them ideal for extinguishing landscape fires. To extinguish landscape fires, more massive equipment is used - the same Chinese midi-class drones. The machines have the ability to pick up additional substances from open sources in flight and are capable of completely extinguishing the fire on their own. Precise coordinates transmitted by the drones allow crews to be sent to the fire scene.

This makes them highly effective at extinguishing fires on their own, potentially saving precious lives and property.


firefighting robot forest


Prospects for UAVs in firefighting

The exemplary primary use of UAVs in firefighting is in forest fires. Monitoring forest and peat fires with aviation are rarely used because of the high cost. Firefighting aviation is sometimes involved in extinguishing fires. Still, this activity itself is hazardous: the smoke rising from the fire disorients the pilot, and the drone must get as close as possible to the fire to drop the substance.

The advantages of using drones to fight forest fires

  • cheaper monitoring of the area,
  • an accurate determination of the coordinates of the outbreak,
  • reduced risk of human losses among firefighters,
  • the ability to extinguish fires quickly.

Drone firefighter fires fireballs

Work on the device began in 2015. Tests were conducted on a Firefly hexacopter loaded with 13 balls that ignited as they flew out of the device. The drone threw one balloon every 6 meters into the dry grass, and the resulting foci merged into a single front.

This technology makes it possible to extinguish steppe fires with the counter-fire method. The flames burn out all fuel in the fire's path, and the fire self-destructs.

Other drone capabilities

The use of drones for firefighting offers the following perspectives:

  • effective monitoring of fires in a defined area,
  • alerting people in the danger zone,
  • localizing the fire by providing rescuers with accurate coordinates,
  • extinguishing fires with a substance - both from apparatus reserves and from local sources,
  • creating a counter-fire in case of steppe fires,
  • safe surveillance in case of peat fires.

The use of drones in firefighting has several positive aspects

  • reduced risk to firefighters' lives,
  • lower financial costs,
  • faster and more effective firefighting.

And while the use of drones to extinguish domestic fires or fires in buildings is still a utopia, the use of technology to extinguish forest fires is quite a foreseeable future.

Drones and Dragon balls

A specialized fire drone has also been developed in the U.S. It helps to carry out controlled counter-fire (burning off). When the drone arrives at the fire site, the hardware injects powder-filled ping-pong balls with glycol and throws them into the unburned areas of the control zone on the windward side. A chemical reaction inside the balls causes them to ignite. The combustion in the path of the primary fire's spread limits the way of the fire advances.

Fire-Trol technology

In May 2019, there were several wildfires in Canada due to the heatwave being untypical for this time of year. It was decided to use the Fire-Trol technology. It is the name of the chemical, which has a red hue that can suppress the flames. A specific bright coloring allows them to be seen from a great distance: both on the ground and from the air. Thanks to this, firefighters can determine where the chemical has already been dumped and not use it twice in the same place.

In many cases, water is the best way to fight a fire. But using such a method is ineffective when the fire spreads over vast areas, such as forested areas. Difficulties arise with the delivery of large volumes of water and the inaccessibility of many places for a fire hose, a vast area. Other technologies are needed to suppress forest fires and prevent further ignition. Phos-Chek, or Fire-Trol, a suspended mixture consisting of anionic surfactants, foam stabilizers, and solvents, including hexylene glycol, is designed for such situations. There are many types of Fire-Trol available, targeting a particular fire type. Such a mixture suppresses flames much more effectively than ordinary water because Fire-Trol strips some materials of their combustible properties when it meets them: water can quickly evaporate in the heat. Fire-Trol fire retardants are manufactured as dry powders or concentrated liquids and are diluted with water before use. Fire-Trol is used during wildfires and in homes by ground crews and aerial firefighting units.

Over the past decades, aerial firefighting has become commonplace, and Fire-Trol has been used extensively in fire containment. Phos-Chek is dropped on fire-stricken areas from aircraft equipped with holders that are specifically designed for pink flame retardants. But as is almost always the case with chemicals, there are side effects: they contaminate water and poison fish, so they are restricted from use around streams and lakes.

Unusual drone - Martin Jetpack




In 2016, several fires occurred in Dubai, one of the world's tallest buildings, Torch Tower. A large part of the buildings was damaged and destroyed by fire, and many property owners lost their homes. The fire was eventually contained and extinguished using Martin Jetpack jet packs. It is a device that, with its small size, provides vertical takeoff and landing without additional equipment and free maneuvering at high altitudes for quite a long time.

The development of the aircraft, which is more like a personal twin-screw helicopter than a jetpack, began in the early 2000s. The principle of operation is as follows: a firefighter is placed on a device attached to his back, and two horizontally positioned screws lift him into the air. The Martin Jetpack is made of advanced composite materials for low weight and high resistance. The unit weighs 60 kg and has a power of 200 horsepower. The jetpack is capable of reaching an altitude of up to 900 meters. It is enough to reach the top of the world's tallest building - the Burj Khalifa Tower (828 meters).

The Martin aircraft can move both with the help of a pilot and in an unmanned.

Jetpacks offer "significant advantages in operations as they can carry loads weighing up to 120 kg, unlike quadcopters, which have a payload capacity of just a few kilograms. A significant disadvantage can be considered the impossibility of using such jetpacks by the military services. For army units, it's essential to minimize human losses, while the backpack pilot is an easy target. Such firefighting aids are most in-demand in areas where it is necessary to deliver firefighters to hard-to-reach places where drones cannot cope. They are also widely used in large metropolitan areas with many skyscrapers and developed infrastructure. They greatly facilitate the activities of urban fire departments and are entirely safe for residents.

The risk of explosion, as well as the intense heat generated during a fire, especially oil fires, forces firefighters to work from a distance. The use of robot firefighters removes people from dangerous situations, for example, in or around houses that may collapse.

In general, the term "fire robot" can be determined as a mechanized device equipped with a fire barrel or fire extinguishing unit used to localize a fire in places where human presence is impossible or difficult.

Classification of firefighting robots

Despite the versatility of firefighting robots in the fight against ignition sources, all machines are built with the following characteristics in mind:

  • оn the basis of the location of the gun barrel (equipment for the directional delivery of water): stationary units or mobile complexes,
  • according to the method of movement: based on electric, pneumatic, or hydraulic drive,
  • according to the method of detection of the source of fire: models equipped with an infrared scanner; complex units functioning in the infrared range, as well as transmitting information through a camera,
  • It is based on functionality: universal works, forming continuous water or powder jet; models designed to detect and inform special services about the fire quickly; robotic scouts.
  • depending on the consumption of extinguishing agents: stationary units spraying up to 20 l/s, models with foam and liquid flow rate from 40 to 60 l/s, mobile robots with more than 100 l/s.

Stationary and mobile firefighting robots are currently in active use. Fixed complexes are installed on the premises to extinguish fires after the construction or repair of a building - they are the central regular firefighting system. Such complexes have an advantage while installing them in large rooms - with more than 5-10 thousand sq. m. and with ceilings above 8 m.

Today such installations are becoming more and more common:

  • On the river and sea vessels. Because if there is an emergency, the ship's personnel will not be able to respond promptly,
  • On autonomous refueling stations. To prevent the further spread of flames, it is customary to install RUPs at these facilities,
  • on the premises of coastal port areas,
  • At a petrochemical plant.

It is not uncommon to find robotic installations at stadiums and large sports complexes. Thanks to their action, the fire will not be able to go beyond the territory. Such devices should not be neglected in hypermarkets, as well as shopping malls, because they can extinguish a large fire before the arrival of special equipment.

Robotics is made of temperature-resistant metals, so they can work where a firefighter would not be able to. In addition, these machines are excellent at the following tasks:

  • suppresses and prevents further flame development,
  • conducts timely cooling of the supporting elements of the structure, so the firefighter can quickly evacuate the remaining people until the building collapses,
  • removes all toxic products and radiation in the event of a man-made disaster.

The entire process is done remotely and does not require constant intervention. Thanks to an advanced system, the technician can work independently or with a specially trained operator.

At industrial sites, there are often situations where the brigade personnel cannot get to the required distance. Therefore, they use unique robotic firefighting complexes, which quickly move deep inside and effectively suppress the seat of the fire.

Such equipment may have different modifications, which include various elements and improvements.

Main features of firefighting robots

The main advantage of a robotic firefighting unit is the possibility of remote control. To ensure that no interference does not affect the timely execution of commands, special software is developed. It makes it possible to independently select the necessary parameters for extinguishing the fire in each case. This increases the overall efficiency of the equipment.

The second advantage of this design is the area covered. The device is able to cope with flames located on 15,000 square meters without any problems. This ability allows the equipment to be used in various warehouses, as well as multiple enterprises related to the chemical and oil industries. It is not uncommon for extensive port facilities to be equipped with robotic firefighting units.

Additional features of firefighting robots

In addition to the primary function of the fire robot, which is to extinguish the flames at the source of the fire, the fire robot can broadcast information thanks to a built-in camera. It is a front-facing camera that makes it possible to assess the situation and take fire containment measures. An infrared scanner also transmits the information.

Modern models are distinguished by the fact that they are equipped with a sound alarm system, which comes into action automatically. Also, most fire robots have excellent protection against dust and moisture penetration, which ensures reliable operation even after five years after installation. To ensure that the enclosure is not ruined by an explosion, attention is paid to only durable materials in its manufacture.

Every modern model supports a software control system that allows you not only to control the device during a fire but also to identify the coordinates of the seat of the fire — in addition, supported by the option of establishing communication between several firefighting robots, which increases the overall effectiveness of the equipment.

There are also mobile structures that can quickly move around the area covered by the fire. They can be monitored from a safe distance, and the efficiency is no worse than with standard models.

Options for stationary robots

The main disadvantage of robots is that they are stationary - they can not move in space. It is necessary to put several such robots per room. The following options were invented to eliminate this disadvantage:

  1. The robot was put on a cart, moving on the floor. But in this case, we have to carry a container with water or have a fire hose and periodically dock with the column. It is possible to implement this option, but it will require complex support systems (positioning, collision warning, docking), which will ultimately affect the price of the robot.
  2. A flying robot. A firefighting robot is set up on a helicopter, and it waters the fire by dragging a fire hose behind it. But also this option is not very convenient.
  3. The robot rides on rails that can be fixed at height. It has the advantages of:
  4. Convenient location for extinguishing - from above.
  5. Nothing interferes with the robots' movement - no people or equipment on top.
  6. Water supply using fire pipeline installed near the rails.
  7. The control and positioning of the robot are simplified. The robot can't move off the guide rail - it's just a matter of setting the right speed and stopping. And positioning is to determine the position of the robot on the guideway.

The last option is the most advanced, convenient, and efficient.

Adaptability to extreme conditions

One of the most important and, at the same time, particular problems of robotics is to work in extreme conditions. It is also necessary to remove a person from a safe distance. Different types of devices can be used for it. Remotely controlled manipulators are wholly owned by a human operator; they do not have automatic modes. In such models, a human operator sets the program or intervenes in control in critical cases.

Robots for firefighting and rescue operations must withstand a 30-minute exposure to 400°C and a three-minute exposure to 800°C. Refrigeration, rugged materials, and other options can ensure performance.

The critical benefit of fire robots is the entire process extinguishing system: detection of the fire at an early stage, determination of the coordinates and area of the fire in a three-dimensional coordinate system, precise supply of extinguishing agent with high intensity through the air, and rapid fire fighting according to an optimized program, termination of suppression when there are no signs of burning, quenching when the fire appears.

Firefighting robots from LeoTronics


firefighting robot LeoTronics

 

The robot from LeoTronics, for example, can be controlled remotely and have all for autonomous operation. TrackReitar FFL fire robot has a fire monitor with up to 4,800 liters per minute, which can fight industrial fires, and thermal cameras with artificial intelligence to ensure fire detection. These firefighting robots can prevent fires on cargo and marine vessels, extinguish fires in fire-prone areas and airports, provide fire safety at extensive facilities such as oil refineries and chemical plants, and secure drilling rigs.

 

As fires continue to take lives and cause property damage, mobile robots are essential to keep firefighters safe and successfully extinguish fires of all sizes.