Robots for firefighting

Robots for firefighting

Fire has an important place in human life. It was once an energy source for cooking, heating, and other purposes. Nowadays, it is still used for similar purposes. There is no doubt that fire plays a vital role in our lives, but it becomes hazardous when it gets out of control.

This article will focus on several leading firefighting robots, which firefighters users to extinguish flames and penetrate dangerous areas. It will also talk about whether robots can replace firefighters.

Every year, fires destroy billions of dollars worth of property in the residential sector; wildfires destroy hundreds of thousands of hours of land, causing tremendous damage. Thousands of people die each year from home fires and wildfires.

A National Fire Protection Association report shows that in 2020 alone, 29,130 fire injuries occurred while fighting fires. These injuries accounted for 69 deaths in the line of duty. The risks; associated with firefighting have prompted authorities, safety experts, and advanced technology companies to join in the development of firefighting systems or robots, that perform overly dangerous tasks for humans.

Advances in technology and firefighting

Firefighting robotics is designed to perform these types of tasks:

  • primary - monitoring and extinguishing fires
  • secondary - fire localization and analytics, hazard control, search and rescue

Similar to fire alarms and automated sprinklers, stationary firefighting systems are used in dangerous and populated areas to suppress small fire outbreaks before they get out of hand. These robots use simpler designs that use IR and UV detection for fire detection.

On the other hand, mobile fire robotic systems are operated by remote control from a distance. They typically take the shape of distant delivery vehicles equipped with advanced extinguishing tools. These ultra-tech robots can move in places that are not safe for humans. They are equipped with infrared sensors, visual cameras, and other advanced sensor technology that efficiently relay the operator's information to navigate.

Recently, robotics engineers have been working on drones and robots capable of fighting close-range fires.

Next, let's take a look at some of the modern robotic firefighters that are being actively used around the world today to fight fires. With the introduction of these devices, there will be a decrease in deaths and fire-related injuries.

Thermite Robot

This robot was originally a tiny tank developed by Howe and Howe Technologies specifically for the U.S. Army. The remotely controlled vehicle is equipped with a heavy-duty hose that can move 500 GPM of water.

The team controlling it can easily move through debris and quickly extinguish flames with a camera mounted on it. The robot can operate in industrial and forest fires, and it can be under control from a safe distance.

The Thermite Robot weighs approximately 1,640 pounds and is equipped with a super-technology neutralizer IED (Improvised Explosive Devices). It is made of high-quality flame retardant materials to prevent overheating and eventually engulfing the flames. It also has an onboard cooling system that ensures a stable temperature level by using some liquid water in the water pump as a coolant.

Its water pump doesn't pump as much water as a fire truck (1,500 GPM), although its cost also is lower. The robot will probably be used to fight forest fires in the coming years because it is rugged and can get into high-risk zones with no risk to anybody.

TAF 20 (Turbine Aided Firefighting machine)

Emicontrols, a subsidiary of the TechnoAlpin Group, developed this highly advanced robot. It is designed to use the turbine as a method of firefighting. Compared to other firefighting robots created to fight wildfires and manufacturing fires, the TAF 20 operates in smaller areas that might be considered too small for more giant robots. The TAF 20 is equipped with a powerful bulldozer blade to push through or remove complex barriers in its path. A turbine installed in the robot can effectively eliminate emitted smoke with the help of a turbine. It also has a powerful nozzle whose intensity can be adjusted, allowing it to extinguish fires large and small.

This highly advanced fire monster is in the form of a tracked vehicle that uses its built-in turbine to spray water into a mist. The fog allows it to cover more area while consuming far less water. However, water can also be focused into a powerful head spraying up to 3,500 gallons a minute. The device can be under control from a distance of 500 meters. Like other fire robots, the TAF 20 is limited in use due to its connection to a hose.

Fire Ox

It is a rapid response fire truck. It is one of the few firefighting robots with a water tank. The robot is created to detect and eliminate hazardous materials, fight fires, and conduct rescue operations. Lockhead Martin originally developed it as a support system for soldiers.

Fire Ox is a semi-automated robot that can be operated from 200 miles.

THOR/SAFFiR

The Tactical Hazardous Operation Robot can navigate in unstable areas dangerous for humans to enter. It is outfitted with a special hose for firefighting and can also open a door. It was initially used on Navy ships that store hazardous materials onboard and have limited space to move around. This robot is about 177 cm tall and uses stereoscopic thermal LIDAR and high-tech visual sensors for navigation. It has been used for years to extinguish fires in compartments, as it was created with the sole purpose of extinguishing flames remotely with the help of the operator.

But it also has a few disadvantages. In particular, it is not very fast and is vulnerable to water and fire. The robot developers are currently performing tasks assigned for them in solveing these problems successfully.

Improving the application of robotics in firefighting

Robotics technology is evolving so that robots can be used to extinguish small residential fires and large ones while avoiding enormous property damage. Health and safety experts are now working with government agencies to bring futuristic technology to life. Already shortly, these developments will protect firefighters from hazardous fire situations.

Considering that the safety of rescuers and victims of fires is of paramount importance, creating these high-tech robots is moving forward. They can counteract the severe damage that traditional firefighting methods can cause.

Can robots take the place of firefighters?

With an increasing number of residential fires, aging infrastructure, and devastating wildfires, the firefighting profession is becoming more and more dangerous. While fighting fires in manufacturing plants, firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals and building structures collapse due to the intense heat.

While it is possible that robots could eventually replace firefighters, there are many challenges to overcome before this becomes a reality. For now, human firefighters will continue to play an essential role in our society.

Firefighting robots

Let's take a look with you at some of the human-like robots developed over the past few years that are already being used for rescue operations and effective firefighting.

Walkman

It is a humanoid robot developed and tested by the Italian Institute of Technology. It is so named because it resembles a human who can guard unstable parts of a structure and extinguish the fire before firefighters can get inside. This robot can get into a burning building, determine the location of the fire, and destroy it. It weighs 220 pounds and is 6 feet tall. It can carry heavy loads over long distances and has a built-in battery that can last for 2 hours.

A unique 3D laser scanner, cameras, and microphone sensors built into the robot can quickly move and navigate in emergencies. It can also be equipped with chemical sensors, should the need arise.

This arm takes good quality pictures of the fire area and transmits them to the operator controlling it.

Even though the Walkman is still in development, it has already passed all tests with flying colors. Perhaps in the future, the Walkman will be mass-produced and used by the fire department to provide invaluable assistance in firefighting.

The Smoke Bot

It is a small but effective firefighting robot developed at Orebro University in Sweden. Rescue personnel from Germany and Dortmund participated in the creation of this robot. A unique feature of the smoke bot is the mapping and navigation in places that are not visible to humans because of dense smoke or dust and inaccessible to giant robots.

The operator, controlling the robot, maps its surroundings and transmits a report to the fire brigade to navigate safely on the ground. The smokebot has a laser scanner, a 3d thermal imager, and a combination of gas sensors. These sensors can detect the presence of gases, calculate gas concentrations and determine the risk of an explosion.

In addition, the smokebot can be under control via Wi-Fi.

The smokebot is not yet ready for widespread use, as it takes about 20-30 minutes to collect information. As soon as the developers improve the efficiency and shorten the data collection time, it will become a valuable tool for saving lives and eliminating fires.

RS1-T3 Robot

The RS1, a heavy-duty firefighting robot resembling an army tank, is made in the United States. It was designed to reduce the risk of extreme fires, usually caused by chemical leaks, explosions, and nuclear decay.

The RS1 was made of first-class steel and aluminum to withstand high temperatures. The robot has a unique multi-directional nozzle that delivers 2,500 gallons of water in one minute. It takes an average of about eight people to control the force generated by the pump's power, but the RS1 can handle it on its own.

This robot is controlled from a distance of 1,000 meters. Through the large-format camera with which the robot is equipped, operators can clearly view what goes on around them via live video feed.

The developers of this robot plan to use the device to fight chemical fires and aircraft fires.

In contrast to other combat bots that are still in the testing and development phase, the RS1 is already available for purchase and, oddly enough, costs less than a fire engine. To date, the RS1-T3 is the first firefighting robot in China.

MVF-5

While firefighters can quickly put out residential fires, fires in certain places, such as explosive liquid storage facilities nuclear power plants, pose too great a danger to humans. The toxic gases present in these places can be detrimental to the health of rescuers. Therefore, the organization of firefighters and rescuers decided to create the MVF-5 autonomous robotic firefighting vehicle (AFRV).

The MVF-5 is manufactured by the renowned Croatian manufacturer DOK-ING. FireRob or MVF-5 is a unique firefighting vehicle that a single operator can control. This robot is created to fight fires without human intervention using a pressure tool on a hydraulic gun, capable of supplying water from a distance of 55 meters. The onboard tanks of this robot can hold up to 600 liters of foam and 1,800 liters of water.

This hardcore fire truck can work in conditions where firefighters cannot go. The robot has enough power to traverse rugged terrain and tow or push obstructing objects to safety, clearing the way for standard fire trucks.

It can punch through walls and lift, hooking and removing obstructing objects with a unique blade tool attached to its front end.

The high-temperature and fire-resistant shield covering the robot is made of intumescent materials that expand and become denser when exposed to fire or intense heat. According to DOK-ING, the company that created this robot, the multi-layer FireRob shield can withstand 400 degrees temperature by Celsius for about 30 minutes and 700 degrees Celsius for about 15 minutes. Thus, the robot is suitable for use in areas with extremely high temperatures. According to the manufacturer, the robot can get much closer to the fire than other fire trucks. In addition, it can be controlled remotely by a trained person at a safe distance.

Based on a pattern recognition algorithm, a particular software package has been created that can effectively detect the presence of people from a heat chamber mounted on the vehicle.

TrackReitar

Engineering - research Slovak company LeoTronics has developed and launched the production of mobile robots, which were presented in October 2021 at the exhibition of fire engineering in the Czech Republic.

To date, the LeoTronics team has completed the development and production of 3 fire robot models prototypes: 2 fire robots with installed fire monitors and a capacity of 2400 and 4800 l/min, and a robot for transporting fire hoses as well.

The robotic platform TrackReitar with artificial intelligence can be used almost in any field, it is only necessary to install the appropriate special equipment: for example, firefighting equipment for firefighters or military superstructure for the army, or special control equipment for tunnel maintenance or nuclear power plants.

No replacement

Although these robots~~,~~ equipped with high-tech firefighting equipment~~,~~ are reliable, especially when it comes to firefighting, they cannot replace human firefighters. They are designed to help firefighters save lives and put out fires.

Since it is impossible to eliminate risks in a fire or emergency, the government and developers must come together to create advanced firefighting robots to help save lives.

Firefighting Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Firefighters have three main goals - eliminating a fire, preventing loss of life, and providing protection and salvage of property. For many years, ladders, trucks, hoses, i.e., low-tech tools, were used for this purpose. But firefighting drones will change all that.

Given the rapid increase in traffic, the height of residential and commercial buildings, urbanization processes, and the multitude of hazardous substances used in construction, firefighters are turning their attention to advances in drone technology that will allow them to deal with fire more efficiently and quickly.

New technologies are being added to high-tech drones, such as heat-resistant materials, radio-electronic sensors, and increased flight time and range.

Drone modifications today

According to a report from the Drone Research Center, more than 900 local and state police, rescue, and fire agencies in the United States are using drones to facilitate their work.

A commercial drone must be upgraded with specific equipment and modifications to fight fires effectively. Here are a few of them:

High-definition cameras can easily recognize codes on packaging materials to identify flammable substances.

  • Thermal imaging cameras for identifying areas of fire.
  • Fog dispensers that can automatically spray coolant to get drones and firefighters close to the fire.
  • IR cameras can be used to locate victims.
  • Capacious tanks for water or foam, powder, specialty fluids.

300 meters in 6 minutes

A Latvian drone development company has released a fire drone that can overcome a height of 300 meters or 980 feet in only six minutes, which far exceeds the capabilities of a standard ladder (it usually does not exceed 29 meters). And, of course, it covers this distance much faster than a human.

Here are some features of the Aerones drone:

  • Close range (it can be 980 feet or 300 meters).
  • Optional use of foam and specialized fire fighting products.
  • The use of a special spray, a mixture of chemicals to achieve optimum pressure.

The company is currently developing two more drones.

One is a very high-speed drone, equipped with 28 propellers, withstands a maximum load of 441 pounds, and can reach 300 meters.

The second is also an ultra-high-speed drone equipped with 36 propellers; it can carry up to 300 kg and reach heights of up to 500 meters.

Maintaining them in flights

For firefighter drones, like conventional drones, the main limiting factor is battery capacity. Due to the increase in airborne duration and firefighting payload, developers are looking to create a hybrid drone engine system that can recharge during flight.

Hybrid drones' propulsion systems and mechanics differ significantly from conventional commercial drones. These hybrid drones are created with an internal combustion engine to provide power to a small generator from which the drone's batteries are charged. Drones with such motors are likely to be larger and have higher payloads.

As drone technology develops rapidly, we expect to see new uses for fire drones shortly.

Here are some innovative ways to upgrade drones for better results:

  • Close-range firefighting with advanced heat-resistant materials.
  • Prompt and highly accurate detection of hazardous substances and people and animals.
  • Intelligent drones and robots that prevent fires or eliminate small pockets of fire before they spread or get out of control.
  • Orienting humans to safety by sound and light.

Fire Drone Swarms

To fight large industrial or forest fires, it is possible to jointly control a group of drones, avoid hazards and obstacles, respond to signals, share information, and make operational decisions.

Last year, a group of researchers in SRJ (Science Robotics Journal) published the results of a study demonstrating how large swarms of drones can be used outdoors and in confined spaces. The study showed how such drones could behave in a flock like birds.

Four future uses of drones

Surveillance. It makes sense to use fire drones to get a clear picture of the fire situation before developing a firefighting strategy.

Thermal imaging drones are the most helpful tool when using drones in firefighting; they accurately identify both: hot and cold areas, allowing you to see through heavy smoke, dust, and other elements that impair visibility, thereby helping to decide how best to proceed in a particular fire situation.

In addition, drones can be equipped with state-of-the-art devices used as nighttime searchlights.

Search and rescue operations. You probably already know about the active participation of drones in search and rescue operations. With UAVs, operators can get a bird's-eye view of the terrain and essential data.

More than once, missing people have been found using drones. Last summer, for example, an 80-year-old woman lost in a field in North Carolina was found in the air using a drone. Last December, mountain rescuers from Scotland used a drone to find a missing hiker.