Firefighting robot to replace humans

Qinetiq has developed a remote-controlled vehicle to send into hazardous situations that are too dangerous for emergency services.

A remote-controlled robot that can be sent into burning buildings to tackle the blaze and send back important information could save firefighters’ lives, its developers claimed this week.

The firefighting robot, designed by technology specialist Qinetiq, can drag a water-charged hose deep into a blaze and is capable of going into a variety of hazardous situations, including domestic, industrial and chemical fires.

In the past year alone, 683 UK firefighters were injured in the course of their duties, and these numbers could be drastically reduced if robots were sent ahead into dangerous areas, said project manager Kiran Vadgama.

‘The robot has its own nozzle and controllers, and can point the jet of water wherever you want. So where there is a risk of loss of life, such as a chemical fire, the vehicle could be sent in rather than a human firefighter.’

The robots are robust enough to be sent into large petrol fires and buildings at risk of collapse. They have solid rubber tyres, containing no air that could heat up quickly. Nor do they have pneumatics, which are prone to explode when in contact with fire.

They also carry onboard sensors and a thermal imager, allowing them to investigate the area and send back information on heat accumulation, ventilation points and structural features. This would give firefighters a good idea of what to expect on entering the blaze.

The robots can carry water or foam, depending on the type of fire, and could be fitted with their own tank if they need to go into situations where a hose would not be practical, said Vadgama.

A mid-sized firefighting robot would have a basic price of around £30,000, with additional costs for installing extra sensors or cameras. A smaller robot, such as Carlos, which at 200kg can be transported to a fire in a transit-sized van, would cost less. ‘Claims against fire brigades for injuries to firefighters can go into hundreds of thousands of pounds, so it makes sense to invest in the technology.’

Qinetiq has been working with fire brigades, including the Cheshire Fire Service, to develop the robots, and is trying to raise awareness within the service that the technology exists. The firm has also been working with JCB to build a larger vehicle capable of going into industrial fires and bringing out chemical drums, to prevent large explosions.

The robots can be used for nuclear power station decommissioning, and surveillance activities. The technology was originally developed for the Ministry of Defence, for use in bomb disposal and landmine clearance work. The company has also been working closely with the Metropolitan Police on bomb disposal.

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