Firefighting robots could save a lot of lives some day. Lives of those affected by a fire disaster as well as lives of those people working as firefighters. Although this day has yet to come research efforts in this field pushes things further every year. They teach these things in firefighting schools?
Anyway, robots assisting firefighters are not an often seen sight. However, there are robotic devices that can already be used for such purposes. These include bots that can be thrown into the fire site to inspect the situation, as well as large remote controlled fire extinguishers.
Anna Konnda is a very interesting robot concept brought to us by the SINTEF Group. The SINTEF Group is the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia. It is based in Norway with other offices in other countries.
Anna Konnda is a water-powered hydraulic robot snake. It is driven by twenty custom-built water hydraulic cylinders. The snake measures 3 meters long and weighs 75 kilograms. The control of this robot is realized using numerous microprocessors that control the joints. The main controller can be connected to a PC via a Bluetooth connection.
This interesting concept displays a quite unique approach to many problems. Maybe someday firefighting robots will look quite awkward - water hoses themselves will crawl to the place needed and extinguish the fire. You can see it in this video:
Hoya Firefighters' Assistance Robot
Developed by Hoya Robot Company and financed by the South Korean government, this robot is intended to be used by firefighters as their personal spy. Despite its heavy armor and robust look, it measures only 12.5 centimeters in diameter and weighs 2 kilograms.
This robotic device can be thrown into a building on fire and operate there for 30 minutes. As it can withstand temperatures up to 320F (160C), firefighters can explore the environment and plan their actions accordingly using this remote controlled robot.
ArchiBot-M Copyrighted © DRB Fatec Co.,LTD
DRB Fatec is another Korean robotics company. Amongst working as a robot systems' provider and integrator for companies such as Hyundai, KIA, Samsung, SsangYong motor and others, they are also involved in numerous R&D activities.
In this field these research and development efforts resulted into two firefighting robots. Namely, these are ArchiBot-M and ArchiBot-S. Both robots can ascend and descend stairs, both are waterproof and both have a cooling system in order to enable them to work in high temperatures.
ArchiBot-M is considerably larger than ArchiBot-S - 450 versus 40 kilograms. Also it travels faster - 20km/h versus 8 km/h and its operating time is twice as long - 2 hours versus 1 hour. While both can be used for exploration of the site, ArchiBot-M is also capable of independent fire-fighting.
IZ holding is a company from Singapore involved in manufacturing items ranging from apparel to oil rig equipment. Among other divisions, there is a Security division which deals with robotics and surveillance systems.
Although their unmanned aerial vehicles could also be used for firefighting purposes such as surveillance of forest fires, they also have designed remote controlled robots specifically for firefighting purposes. These would be Firo-F and Firo-S.
These robots share some similarities with firefighting robots mentioned just above. Firo-F is bigger and Firo-S is smaller - 450 and 40 kilograms accordingly. Firo-S can only be used for surveillance, while Firo-F is also equipped with a water system so it can carry a water hose up to 100 meters long and extinguish fire independently.
Both Firo robots are wireless and remote controlled. The range is claimed to be 1 kilometer. Both are equipped with a surveillance camera capable of taking thermal images. Both can endure temperatures up to 500 C, although, I'm not sure which rubber can endure this as the treads are said to be covered with rubber.
The Firemote, designed by Ryland Research Limited, is also among firefighting robots that weigh around 450 kilograms. This robot is also remote controlled (up to 300 meters); it can endure high temperatures as well as extinguish fire using either water or foam. In addition to these "basic" capabilities there are also some quite unique ones.
Battery compartments are changeable thus allowing changing batteries instead of charging them. The robot is also equipped with four color cameras that together provide a panoramic view and one infrared camera steerable in horizontal plane.
Also, it should be noted that this robot has articulated tracks to ensure better surface travel capabilities. The robot has variable width with two modes - "wide" and "narrow". The wide mode provides better stability, while the narrow mode enables the robot to travel through standard doorways.
Jelka-10, photo courtesy of DOK-ING
Does 450 kilograms don’t seem serious enough to you? Or maybe you think that it is not practical to pull the water hose behind for hundreds of meters or water guns seem too week? Well, there are bigger guns and I mean really big water guns.
DOK-ING is a Croatian company founded in 1991. They're mainly occupied with designing and manufacturing of mine clearance systems. By now, these mine clearance systems has gained international recognition as being reliable and heavily tested in various areas around the world.
In 2006 and 2007 they designed two remote controlled firefighting systems - the medium sized JELKA-4 and the heavy JELKA-10. What's so different about these firefighting robots? At first, these have turbo charged 4 stroke diesel engines and they weigh 9.2 (JELKA-4) and 22 (JELKA-10) tones when filled up.
These robots also have water and foam tanks. JELKA-4 has a water tank with 1400 liters capacity and a foam tank with 500 liters capacity. JELKA-10, on the other hand, has a water tank with 4000 liters capacity and a foam tank with 1000 liters capacity.
The water guns are quite powerful too. JELKA-4 can shoot water 70 meters away and foam 50 meters away, while JELKA-10 - 90 and 70 meters accordingly. It is worth mentioning that the water guns on both robots are strong enough to empty the water tanks in a bit more than 1 minute.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles could be very useful to monitor the forest fires. I won't describe them here as UAVs is a topic of a separate page or even a separate site. Still, their potential usefulness in wilderness firefighting situations can't be underestimated.
OLE, Madgeburg-Stendal University
Other conceptual firefighting robots include such inventions as the OLE robot bug and FINE, dubbed also as "First INtelligent Extinguisher". Although both of these concepts deal with firefighting, the domains of application are quite different.
The OLE robot bug or off-road extinguishing apparatus designed by an industrial design studio of Madgeburg-Stendal University, Germany. This conceptual bug would patrol a specified forest area and look for fires.
In case it finds a potential threat it would notify the firefighters as well as try to extinguish the fire by itself. In case it gets too hot for it, the robot would roll up in a ball to protect its vulnerable parts the same way its natural counterpart does.
The FINE concept, on the other hand, is intended to deal with household fires. This concept is a finalist of 2009 James Dyson design award. Basically, it is a robot fire extinguisher that can be used manually if someone is at home or operate autonomously and notify the firefighters if no one is present. This video explains it:
Of course, we don't see robots roaming the woods or your home in search of fire. Firefighters chatting colloquially while extinguishing a fire using giant robot snakes are not an often seen sight either. However, a wiki article on Tokyo fire department states that they have 12 robots in their disposal.
Also, I'm pretty sure that some of the above mentioned robots are being put to a good use somewhere where potential fires are too dangerous for human firefighters. If you are aware of such place, please contact me and tell me about it!