Firefighting Robots

Robots and drones: the bright future of firefighting

As everyone knows by now, technology and progress have become fully part of our life. Every day, we use electronic devices to carry out many actions and distract ourselves and relax from stress. In this regard, many people do not look favorably on this fact, saying that we are becoming more and more addicted to technology. It can cause severe damage if used excessively, to us and to others. If, on the one hand, it must be recognized that abuse of these devices can cause many people to run grave risks, on the other it must be said that technological progress can instead be very useful in areas that do not fall within our daily lives. For some time, in fact, many groups of law enforcement agencies around the world have begun to adopt technological systems such as drones and bomb-disposal robots to make human beings involved in dangerous actions run fewer risks. In fact, in this article, we will talk about the figure of the firefighter and how robots and drones are (and can even more) help him in his hard work.

A look at the past…

As we all know, the job of a firefighter is challenging and, above all, risky. These people risk their lives every day, and many cannot even survive. Let’s look at famous episodes from the past. The attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan in 2001 will immediately come to mind, a tragic fact in which, in addition to thousands of civilians, many men also perished ready to rescue them. Of course, history is not made with ifs and buts. Still, we realize that more developed technological help can be decisive in certain situations.

…to the present…

But let’s talk about the present. What technologies are used by firefighters today to help them with their tasks? Undoubtedly the most striking case is that of the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2019. During the battle with the flames, one of the most active participants in the rescue of the historic Parisian cathedral was: Colossus. The robot, supplied by the Paris fire brigade, managed to enter the hell of the church and managed to lower the temperature inside the structure. Thanks to the use of its powerful water jets, it also allowed some of its human colleagues to enter the building to finally extinguish the fire and save many parts that were now considered lost.

But let’s talk better about this Colossus. Built by the French company Shark Robotics, the capabilities of the robot firefighter range from extinguishing the fire to transporting injured people or equipment. Not just emergency intervention: one of the activities is that of optical reconnaissance thanks to the use of an HD video camera with a 360 � view and an X25 zoom with a thermal camera and NRBC sensors. A solid structure, built-in aluminum, and welded steel, totally assembled by Shark Robotics for a total of one ton of weight. Waterproof and protected from thermal radiation, it has an autonomy ranging from 10 to 12 hours in operational situations and an enormous ease of piloting, so much so that half a day is required for pilot training.

Furthermore, we cannot forget the use of many drones equipped with thermal cameras, which are used to fly over dangerous areas such as wooded and forest areas in the throes of flames to get a complete overview of the situation without letting people enter the fire. to risk their life.

Here, then, is how technological progress is already used today for even very important missions.

…and to the future!

But, of course, the innovations don’t stop there. Among the most ambitious projects financed by the American Navy and called SAFFiR certainly stands out. It is a humanoid robot about 180cm tall and weighing more or less 140 kilos, but, despite its size, it can move easily, even in confined spaces. Capable of understanding vocal orders, SAFFiR was built precisely to replace its human counterparts in the most extreme situations. SAFFiR stands for Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot. It is the first robot-firefighter specialized in dealing with fires that can break out on ships. Developed by Virginia Tech researchers and funded by the United States Navy, it can rescue and fight a fire at close range much more effectively than a human being could. “SAFFiR was designed to move autonomously on the ship – we read on the US Navy website – memorize its spaces, interact with patrol people, and manage many dangerous firefighting activities normally performed by humans”. Having to move in environments ravaged by fire and in extreme conditions of temperature and visibility, the robot is equipped with an infrared and an ultraviolet camera to locate the survivors hidden by the smoke. The work done by the development team on the robot’s limbs deserves a separate mention. Indeed SAFFiR shows great skill in handling objects such as fire hydrants and, in extreme cases, fire extinguishers. On the other hand, the lower limbs have been designed to make them stable in any situation. While still having some problems with the stairs, the humanoid robot made in the USA it is in fact able to dynamically balance its weight and remain in balance in all sea conditions.

The confirmation of these qualities was obtained during a series of tests carried out on board some ships, on which fires were simulated. The tests have shown that the firefighter robot is able to locate the fire, easily grab a fire pump, and direct it towards the flames. To move inside the ship and then reach the fire, he uses a super-trained “colleague”: a hyper-technological drone that precedes him to explore the environment and identify possible obstacles.

In recent times, we have been accustomed to seeing the image of firefighters in action due to natural disasters or disasters caused by human inexperience. In the future, thanks to this “strange couple,” even these guardian angels in uniform could take less risk. At least when it comes to fires onboard ships: one of the most feared events by those who go to sea because we are talking about very difficult situations to manage and, often, with a very high cost in terms of damage and human lives.

The development team of the Naval Research Laboratory – a research center of the US Navy – led by Professor Dimitry Berenson will have to work hard to improve the robot’s algorithms and solve its walking problems to make it even more agile.

Indeed, as already mentioned, there is still much work to be done. Still, it is nice to think that so many companies work on projects of this type, and above all larger companies finance research.