New technology has been invented, using a thermal imaging camera, to help process and create images of fires for firefighters, in order to aid their rescue service. This has been carried out by the engineers in the Coordinated Robotics Lab at the University of California.
The plan is to produce robots, that are small and Segway like, which are designed to construct a digital image of the fire in hand. The complex system uses the thermal data which has been calculated by the robot’s infrared camera and then maps it onto a 3D lifelike scene. The new technology will also allow them to map and photograph the inside of the burning residential and commercial buildings by using stereovision. Once the accurate virtual image of the fire has been created, it will be sent to rescuers in real time who will use the information to plan their firefighting strategy due to being able to see the structure of the fire.
A first prototype has already been constructed in a way that allows it to climb stairs, moving about similarly to a self-righting Segway.
The main function of the robot is to;
- Characterize the image of the fire
- Measure the fire’s temperature and ferocity
- To detect any volatile gases
- To work out the fire’s structural integrity
- To help look for individuals suffering in the fire
Thomas Bewley, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, has commented that “these robot scouts will be small, inexpensive, agile, and autonomous” and that “firefighters arriving at the scene of a fire have 1,000 things to do. To be useful, the robotic scouts need to work like well-trained hunting dogs, dispatching quickly and working together to achieve complex goals while making all necessary low-level decisions themselves along the way to get the job done.”
Due to the momentous size of the project, significant work has previously been carried out in order to start the research before the proposal was submitted. This involves various interdisciplinary work, including;
- Professor Yoav Freund’s computer scientists have been developing software for robotic navigation in smoky spaces full of obstacles and obstructions.
- Professor Deli Wang’s lab has been working with nano-engineers to invent an ‘electronic nose’ that is able to detect volatile organic compounds.
- Researchers at the University of Illinois have been addressing the inherent human interface and obstacle avoidance problems.
This new technology could prove to be a breakthrough in the emergency services sector, making the rescue service more efficient and effective. Between 2011 and 2012 in England, 223,000 fires were attended to by the Fire and Rescue Authorities. Shockingly, there were also 304 fire fatalities in England between 2011 and 2012; the fire fighting robot could potentially cut down this worrying statistic.
The final results from the lengthy research will be presented in Hong Kong at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation from the 31st May to the 5th June 2014.