Specially designed robots that can locate and monitor the temperatures of acetylene cylinders in a fire are being tested in a six-month trial by Network Rail and the London Fire Brigade.
Since September, the remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) have been called out to six fires in which cylinders were thought to be involved.
In these instances, fire fighters can normally do little more than cordon off a 200m radius hazard zone for 24 hours. But at three of the trial incidents where cylinders were found, the hazard zone time was reduced to between five and 10 hours.
The robots(below), including ones originally developed for operations in Afghanistan and Bosnia, have been adapted by Qinetiq to help reduce the size and time of the hazard, and thus the disruption to people and services located near the fire.
They weigh 22kg to 64kg depending on the payload and are 28cm high with a stowed arm x 86cm long. They run on tracks and carry four cameras, including a pan/tilt camera on top and a thermal imaging camera.
Once a fire has been put out, the Talon, usually used for bomb disposal missions in Afghanistan, may be deployed. Its main purpose is to make the initial assessment and locate and determine the temperature of a cylinder. It can navigate a range of rough terrain and also climb stairs.
In some cases, the Talon may need to follow a demolition robot such as the Bison or the Brokk. The Bison, developed for use in Bosnia, is used to gain access to a site with the aid of a hydraulic cutter or other interchangeable tools, but will be replaced by the more robust 930kg Brokk in the later stages of the trial once the latter has been developed to run on a diesel power pack and be operated remotely.
The third robot is the 250kg Black Max, a small quad bike that runs on a diesel electric engine. It has a hose attachment and can get close to a cylinder and hose it down with water for as long as it takes to cool it down to prevent an explosion.