A Segway-like robot has joined the list of devices developed to assist firefighters. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego designed the semi-autonomous Firefighting Robot (FFR) to map the interiors of residential and commercial buildings and take temperature readings to give firefighters a clearer picture of a fire before they enter a burning building.
The robot rides on two wheels. Its stem reaches a few feet high and carries two stereo cameras and other sensors, allowing it to record thermal data and map it on to a 3D scene constructed from images taken by the cameras.
Researchers at the University of California-San Diego have developed a Segway-like autonomous robot that can act as a scout for firefighters in commercial and residential blazes. (Source: University of California-San Diego)
Thomas Bewley, a professor at UCSD and director of its Coordinated Robotics Lab, told us in an email that inexpensive COTS mobile phone cameras give the robot stereo vision. Tamarisk 320 infrared imagers from DRS Technologies record the thermal data. Researchers used a simple, three-motor design to give the robot mobility. Two motors power the main drive wheels for driving and steering in a "Segway-like manner." The third motor lifts the body to overcome obstacles "in what is perhaps best described as an inverse-Slinky-type maneuver."
Researchers plan to equip the robot to analyze gases and other compounds at a fire. "We are also collaborating with UCSD Professor Deli Wang in the development and use of a unique and ingenious electronic nose, built from carbon nanotubes, which can detect and quantify O2, CO2, CO, unburnt hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere as the vehicle moves throughout the structure."
Bewley and his team are working with San Diego firefighters and ATA Engineering to ensure the FFR's thermal and mechanical robustness. Daniel Yang, another member of the research team, told us the collaboration with ATA has provided the team with analysis of the material needed to protect the robot in a burning environment. "Our thermal analysis showed that a two-centimeter-thick composite aralite thermal shield could protect the robot in a room with a three-by-three-meter fire and keep the internal temperature at 61C after three minutes."
Bewley said that, once funding for the project is secured, the FFR could come to market within five years.
Nice posting, Elizabeth. Fire fighting seems to be a big area for robot development these days. In many ways it's similar to developments in the military. I wonder if the military is making any of its technol,logy available for this type of application.
The robot is fascinating, and the video demonstrates some impressive software (the 3D pont cloud was amazing), but I frankly did not understand the final segment of it. The robot runs into a wall, falls over, and explodes? Kinda defeated the message up to that point.
I think the end of the video was just a demonstration of the sense of the humor of the inventors...probably not really so funny, but I guess they wanted the video to end with a "bang," literally, not a whimper. Probably could have done without it! But it's still quite effective to see the robot in action before the grand finale.
Its nice to see a segway robot contributing to the society other than transport uses. Quite an innovative idea, although i cannot see the video due to some reason, but i do hope the speed and control of this semi autonomus robot is fast and robust, because even a small amount of lag or delay might be fatal for citizens.
Its really very nice and interesting to watch robots helping humans. Idea is very innovative and thought provoking this robot can give a clear image of what is happening inside the burning building and with this information fire brigade people can take precautionary measures . This is a very big help for fire brigade people.
Definitely I think this could also be a good application for search and rescue, too, jmiller. The military has been working on similar type robots, though not Segway-scooter style. But I think this is quite a practical approach and a good use of that design form, which I think personally is quite silly as a mode of transport for people.
Yes, police on Segways are hardly intimidating, jmiller, I agree. I don't live in the U.S. anymore and I don't see anyone on Segways here in Europe, not even recreationally. When I lived in San Francisco there were Segway tours near the bay, but that's really the only place I've seen these machines being used. So I think adapting it for a good use robotically is a great idea.
@jmiller-Segway tours are very popular here in San Francisco. It's almost adorable to see a group of 6-10 adults with bicycles helmets roaming through Golden Gate Park. I've also seen many police officers use them at big events.
The Segways have been good for that, jmiller, and now I think there will be more instances of applications of Segways in places where, as you mention, it's hard for people to walk. For things like fires and disaster-recovery--like the rubble of earthquakes--I think they can be adapted in very useful ways.
I can see it now. A seqway with monster struck wheels. In all seriousness though, I thought I saw a segwa with tracks somewhere. I have seen more and more development of tracks fro anything from tractors to trucks lately.
I agree, jmiller, it's good to see researchers applying one technology to a different use. In this case, I think it's an even better use, as the Segway itself (in my opinion) was a pretty silly thing as a people mover. But in this case, it could really be worthwhile. I'm sure search and rescue also could be a good option, with the robot identifying where there might be survivors in rubble who need rescuing in the case of earthquakes, building collapses etc.
Good question, I will have to check on that, Cabe. I can't imagine it would take very long, as it would probably be quite dangerous for the robot to stay in the building for an extended period of time.
I would assume that the robot has temperature sensors in the electronics box and is programmed to scoot out of harms way when the internal temperature is too hot for the battery/psu circuits. From what I know of such environments, it wouldn't be able to operate for long before overheating, and it would have to be constantly aware of which direction cooler air lies.
This is quite an interesting concept, and I am especially impressed with the way that leg boosts it up over things and works for climbing steps. But the package in the video would not last even a minute in a really hot area, so I hope that what we are seeing is just the demonstration of concept version. The real thing will need to have a lot of protection from radiant heat as well as from a hostile environment.
But it certainly does appear to be an invention with a god bit of potential usefulness.
That feature is quite impressive, William K, and point taken about its ability to sustain hot temperatures. But I think the researchers are working to fire proof it so this particular robot wouldn't go into a fire without some serious thermal protection.
Very interesting post Elizabeth. I have a neighbor who retired as the chief of fire for a small city outside Chattanooga. He told me the most feared circumstance was working fires in buildings that contained chemicals or paint. This (of course) was due to the toxic nature of the substances. Older building also pose a great threat to the safety of the fire fighters. This device would be an excellent solution to that problem. Sensors detecting gasses as well as temperature would be a definite value-added to this men and women who fight these fires. I wonder if there are microphones installed to detect movement or sounds from trapped individuals in the building. Great post.
Thank you, bobjengr. I personally do really like the stories best that focus on technology that can really have an effect on people and potentially help people's lives or even save them. This is a case of the latter. Fighting fires is incredibly dangerous, as we just saw in Arizona where those firefighters died. While this of course wouldn't hep in that situation, it would, as you point out, be very helpful to protect firefighters in the case of dangerous chemicals or other scenarios where a preemptive scan of the area could be the difference between life and death.
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