The modern stage of robotics development allows to design automated systems that can successfully extinguish fires of all sizes.
The main purpose is to reduce the number of human casualties, injuries, and traumas, increase the safety of rescue teams and expand the technical capabilities of the team.
The significant advantage 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.
Several prototypes have been designed to locate and fight fires. However, very few designs have been commercialized and found in everyday use. Most of the models are teleoperated vehicles equipped with various sensors and devices for fire extinguishing. Early on, the spectrum of tasks for robots in this class was expanded to include search and rescue in fire or hostile environments.
The risk of an explosion, as well as the extreme heat that develops during a fire, especially where oil is involved, forces firefighters to work from a distance. Consequently, the positioning of the water beam is less precise, and water pressure is lost over the remoteness, resulting in decreased efficiency. Using firefighting robots removes humans from dangerous environments, such as in or around houses that are likely to collapse.
Guided by remote control or moving autonomously, firefighting robots approach the fire and bring the mounted water or foam cannons into position. The extinguisher is either carried along or supplied through a hose, dragged behind, and ensures a constant flow.
Alternatively, robots can be used to easily position separate, ordinary water cannons, and return. The separate water cannons carry a detector to find and readjust the operating direction. The robot’s power, size, weight, and maneuverability vary according to the used method of operation.
Despite numerous efforts, so far, no firefighting robotic system has been widely used on the market. The literature provides a good overview of the situation in the sphere of fire robots and the developed systems comparing.
MVF-5 from the private Croatian company Dok-Ing is a unique multifunctional robotic fire extinguishing system designed to extinguish fires in life-threatening conditions and hard-to-reach places. The robot system is operated from a safe distance by using remote-control technology.
The MVF-5 extends the reach of firefighters to protect high-risk industrial facilities and other dangerous environments. The original design of MVF-5 is based on the proven technology used in the construction of demining systems that can survive mine detonations and other hazardous operations in the most demanding and destructive environments. The low center of gravity combined with a powerful engine and the compact, original structure of the MVF-5 allows for excellent maneuverability. Equipped with the latest firefighting technologies, plus two storage containers for water and foam, the MVF-5 can extinguish fires with minimal damage to itself and its operators, who remain outside the range of danger during operation. The components give the operator the capability to use water, foam, or a combination of both extinguishing liquids.
Blade Formation, developed by the fire brigade of remotely operated vehicles and unmanned drones in Tongliao in Northern China, is a robotic unit consisting of seven reconnaissance and fire robots, two fire detection drones, and one vehicle. The fire extinguishing unit takes part in hazardous tasks that could seriously endanger the safety of human firefighters.
They can be deployed to work at industrial facilities or in enclosed and enclosed spaces where visibility can be disrupted, for example, in underground rooms, deep tunnels, or large spaces in buildings. They could also be deployed for other missions, for example, an unmanned drone and robots equipped with water cannons were dispatched in an air-ground mission. These firefighting robots use 360-degree vision and an infrared thermal imaging system to detect the fire source and are directed to target it to control the fire. The robots feature multiple other functions, such as – combustible gas detection and analysis, image and sound collection, autonomous obstacle avoidance, and on-site rescue.
Another example is Colossus by Shark Robotics, which supports firefighters by extinguishing fires, transporting equipment, transporting wounded persons, and providing surveillance of the whole scene using optical recognition. Controlled by the Paris Firefighter Brigade, the 1,100-pound robot helped save the cathedral Notre Dame when it caught fire in 2019. The robot is specifically made to endure scorching fire conditions and perform several tasks. It can carry more than 1,200 pounds of payload.
Similarly, the Thermite RS1-T3 and RS2-T2 of Howe and Howe Technologies were developed to provide safety and inside access to fires of any magnitude or origin. The Thermite gives firefighters and first responders instant insights into the circumstances; surrounding fire and the ability to attack the fire at its core. With the power to tow whole hoses and dispense up to 1,250gpm (RS1-T3, about 4700l/min) or 2,500gpm (RS2-T2, about 9460l/min), respectively, the Thermite is changing tactics on combating and conquering fires.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) has developed two firefighting robots: The Water Cannon Robot and the Hose Extension Robot. Combined: the two robots are expected to play an active role in situations; that are too hazardous for firefighting crews. The Water Cannon Robot can extinguish and cool fires where human intervention is challenging, while the Hose Extension Robot automatically lays out up to 300m of fire hose to supply water to the Water Cannon Robot.
SmokeBot, an EU-funded research project, is driven by the demand for robots that operate in domains with restricted visibility. The focus is on civil robots supporting fire brigades in search and rescue missions, e.g., during post-disaster management operations in response to tunnel fires.
Milrem Robotics developed a Rescue Hose Cartridge which is a remotely operated mobile platform equipped with sensors and cameras for hose deployment in fire environments.
The Rescue Firefighter developed by the same company is equipped with a modular water monitor with a flowrate of 3,000l/min and is fully customizable. The Multiscope Rescue Firefighter with Hydra is designed for warehouses, tunnels, and wildfire extinguishing. It has four pressurized water hose lines running behind it to ensure a sufficient water supply. Finally, the Multiscope Rescue Transport is developed for the transport of critical supplies, equipment, and teams. It can be utilized to pack up gear quicker and with less workforce, thus enabling firefighters to be ready faster for upcoming challenges. All the variants of the Multiscope Rescue Platform can be operated in different modes.
Teleoperation and waypoint navigation already work for Hydra and Hose, whereas the function; that the robot follows a human firefighter or can collaborate with other robots in swarms is still under development. For the Multiscope Rescue Transport, all variants are still under development.