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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.