Fire-fighting robot consortium founded

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The European Commission has formed a consortium of specialists from universities, robotics companies and a British fire and rescue service to develop robots to help in emergencies.

The project (The Engineer, 19 January 2007), which goes under the name of Guardians, will last three years and has a budget of €2.7m. Universities and companies from Germany, Spain, the UK, Belgium, Portugal and Turkey will participate.

Guardians are a swarm of autonomous robots applied to navigate and search in potentially dangerous urban ground. This may be a building full of smoke or an industrial warehouse where toxic substances have been released. Under these circumstances, where the risks fire-fighters face on entering the building are unknown, the guardian robots will act as a reconnaissance party capable of collecting data and forwarding them to a control station. With this information, fire-fighters will be able to assess potential danger and decide on the best strategy to be followed to tackle the problem.

To this end, robots will be equipped with cameras, microphones and sophisticated sensors that can measure the chemical composition of the environment in order to detect the presence of dangerous chemical substances.

If an accident takes place in a dangerous environment such as a chemical plant where there is a risk of toxicity or explosion, robots can initially be sent in to measure air, temperature and other factors that may indicate how safe the conditions are. The robots will warn of toxic chemicals, provide and maintain mobile communication links, give information on location and assist in searching.