Fire safety and design  

Robots that fight fire

Developments in technology are allowing humanity to become better equipped for fighting fire. The use of robotic systems such as drones and robots are increasingly being used to not only detect fires but put them out.

A report published by Firefighting Robots Market - Growth, Future Prospects and Competitive Analysis, 2017-2025, suggests that the global firefighting robot market is predicted to grow sizably from 2018 to 2026.  Drones strengthen firefighting in high-rise buildings due to their ability to move around a whole building, and firefighting robots are quicker than people at responding to a fire and consequently decrease the loss of human life.

Image credit: Insight Robotics

Globally, there is a range of robotic systems being used to tackle fires in diverse environments. These systems size up the fire, locate it, identify any humans around the affected area, and act to control the spread of it.

Insight Robotics is a China-based organisation founded by Rex Sham and Kevin Chan who designs fire-detecting robots. Starting the company in 2011, Sham and Chan’s robotics have an automated early warning system with thermal imaging sensors. The robotic systems can detect fire incidents from 13 kilometres away, and locate the fire when it’s blazing upon a single tree, in 200 square kilometres of forest.

Image credit: Insight Robotics

Insight Robotic's robots are fully automated, and when tested at Guangdong Academy of Forestry, a 100% fire detection rate was shown. As a result of this success, Insight Robotics robots are being used by 41 forestry departments in China, monitoring 1.5 million hectares of forest. This technology can detect fires quickly and result in less damage to the overall ecosystem.

Although Sham’s robots are advanced in fire detection, the US Navy has constructed a robot that is designed not only to detect fires but help fight them. Two years ago the US Navy ran their first test on SAFFIR, a robot constructed by Virginia Tech, with the aim that it would become a future firefighter and fire regulator.

Image credit: John F. Williams, US Navy

SAFFir is equipped with infrared stereo vision sensors and rotating lasers which enable it to navigate through smoke. The robot can also manipulate fire hoses and doors and is equipped to safely put out a fire. SAFFir is also programmed to respond to drones which use cameras and infrared sensors to detect a fire's location and map the topography of the area, from which they communicate back to the robotic. 

Since the SAFFiR's creation, the US Navy is working on creating advanced sensors for SAFFiR, enabling the robot to have stronger communication abilities and to move at a greater speed, with the goal to create robotics which work with firefighters and do not replace them.

Image credit: John F. Williams, US Navy

Although these technological advances give insight into how in the future a fire will be fought, developments are ongoing to enable robotics to navigate cluttered interior environments (as humans are needed to clear the space for the robot to move freely). Nevertheless, these innovations give insight into how effective the technology is when conducting firefighting tasks which in the future, will support firefighters. 

To learn more about SAFFiR click here and click here to learn more about Insight Robotics.