Many images come to mind when one hears robots. The ever-present robot who warns “danger Will Robinson” from the Lost In Space series. The wise-cracking, not very helpful robotic maid from The Jetsons animated series. Or perhaps the non-verbal but still hilarious R2D2 from the Star Wars franchise. Robots have always been portrayed as things for future generations, but in the world of firefighting, that future is now.
Firefighting robots were first introduced as a possibility in 2015. Each robot firefighter is designed with different functions and missions in mind. Although their specific uses may differ, all firefighter robots provide a key element to firefighting. The safety of the firefighters. While several firefighting robots have been developed, this article will focus on four different models.
Thermite RS3 – the first American FireFighting Robot
The first model is the Thermite RS3 which belongs to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The Thermite RS3 is the first one in America and has already been utilized. A fire broke out in a downtown textile warehouse in Los Angeles in October of 2020. The LAFD brought in the Thermite RS3 to help fight the fire in areas that would have otherwise been inaccessible. The Thermite RS3 is designed to create space or standoff between the fire and the firefighters. It is equipped with cameras that increase situational awareness as the camera can see into areas that firefighters cannot. This firefighting robot can also spray water or foam at a rate of 2,500 gallons per minute. The average fire hose sprays between 300 and 800 gallons depending on the type of hose and the water supply system.
A firefighting robot from France
Another model which has already seen battle fighting the Norte Dome fire in France is the Colossus. This firefighting robot is equipped with cameras similar to the Thermite RS3 for increased visibility. Colossus was designed to gather and interpret data to increase the efficiency of extinguishing fires. This data includes the origin of the fire, the intensity at which the fire is burning, and the direction the fire is going to spread. The compact size of the Colossus allows for the robot to access areas not able to be reached by its human counterparts. This ability allows for more accurate data collection and ensures the safety of the firefighters. The compact size of the Colossus makes this firefighting robot easy to transport.
Fire Ox from Lockheed Martin
A firefighting robot which differs from the previous two is the Fire Ox. The Fire Ox is a miniaturized truck designed explicitly for land fires and hazardous waste fires. The Fire Ox can follow a person autonomously or be controlled up to 200 miles away. The Fire Ox is the only firefighting robot that carries its own water tank. The Fire Ox is able to carry supplies and equipment into or out of dangerous situations. It has a payload of about 880 pounds. This firefighting robot’s self-sufficiency and strength make it ideal for forest fires.
Ground Fire Fighting Drone TC800-FF
A firefighting robot that is similar to the Fire Ox is the TC800FF. This robot is able to carry up to 1,763 pounds. The TC800FF is not only able to carry heavy supplies or equipment but can also carry people. Like the tread of the wheels, the tank allows the TC800FF to travel across nearly any terrain, including steep hills. The TC800FF can also be used for reconnaissance purposes. This means that the TC800FF has the capability of collecting data for strategic planning as well as finding survivors in the fires.
The last type of firefighting robot to be highlighted is the drone. Firefighting drones are capable of not only collecting surveillance of the fires but carrying small payloads. In the Dixie Fire in Northern California in 2021, firefighting drones were used. They had small sphere-like devices that ignited on impact with the ground. The “dragon eggs,” as they are referred to, are used to create counterfire. Counterfire is fire that is set intentionally to burn away fuel that would otherwise feed a forest fire. This allows firefighters to not only contain and fight the blaze but provide protection to existing structures and potentially people.
The Dixie Fire in Northern California was the third-largest fire in the state’s history. It burned from mid-July to late October in 2021 and destroyed 963,000 acres. The fire burned through two national forests, Plumas and Lassen, and the Lassen Volcanic National Park. While firefighters were busy fighting the Dixie Fire, the Calder Fire started on August 14th, 2021. This fire burned approximately 220,000 acres until it was contained in late October. The fire burned along Highway 50 down into the Lake Tahoe Basin before it was able to be contained. On July 3rd, 2021, another fire began burning due to a lightning strike; The Beckwourth Complex fire. This fire also burned in the Plumas National Forest and destroyed 106,000 acres before it was fully contained in late September.
Benefits of fire robots
The fires not only destroyed thousands of acres of land but countless buildings and cost millions to fight. The fight was made especially challenging as there was a staffing shortage among forest firefighters. Private contractors were called in to assist with battling the blazes, which only contributed to a higher cost. These fires could have significantly benefited from firefighting robots. Firefighting robots are not going to feel the effects of fatigue, exhaustion, dehydration, or the dangers of smoke inhalation. They will not be injured by falling debris or getting too close to flames. The robots will not only increase the amount of water resulting in larger coverage areas, but their data collecting abilities would also provide up the second changes that the human eye could miss. Firefighting robots can be sent in ahead of human lives as most, other than the Fire Ox, can be remotely controlled within a two-mile radius. Three of the firefighter robots introduced in the article are capable of carrying heavy payloads, alleviating yet another challenge faced by their human counterparts.
Current research and development in firefighting robot technology is to create more autonomous robots like the Fire Ox, to provide a wider range of protection and reach in firefighting. Another project in the works is small helicopters with the ability to carry up to one hundred pounds. This would mean these helicopters could carry water to hard-to-reach areas such as treetops, or carry in supplies. Firefighting robots do not mean that humans will be replaced, but the use of firefighting robots to extinguish forest fires is inevitable.