Robots and drones can safely reach places humans can’t. They have been used to free people trapped under rubble after earthquakes and access dangerous areas, such as the Fukushima nuclear disaster, as part of emergency response actions.
Last year was the most destructive wildfire season to date in California, where more than 8000 fires destroyed in excess of 700 000 hectares of land, killing at least 80 people and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in rescue operations and insurance claims.
The robots that operate in such hazardous environments are “explosion-proof”. They are sealed units, many have their arm pressurized with air to prevent the ingress of explosive solvents and their motor designed with Ex protection covered by International Standards prepared by IEC Technical Committee 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres.
New firefighting methods will save lives and the environment
A new digital system known as the low power wireless ground sensor nodes (LPWGSN) used in conjunction with drones has been created to detect fires in the early stages and monitor developments in real time, revolutionizing firefighting techniques and save lives.
Developed by the University of Westminster and the VLSI Research Group, which is a partner of the Advanced Forest Fire Fighting (AF3) project, the solar powered sensors are placed on the ground in areas prone to fires and can monitor aspects including carbon dioxide and monoxide levels, temperature and humidity and location thanks to GPS technology. If one sensor detects a fire it communicates with other sensors, measuring distances from the fire.
This data is sent through the network, to a drone which flies off to get a visual of the particular area. This information is then sent to firefighting teams, who can quickly respond to very precise areas to put out fires.
If small self-flying planes were used to drop water or foam on fires, it would mean that fires could be fought 24/7 no matter how thick the smoke was or the time of day. They would be guided by the sensor data and GPS coordinates, so visibility would not be an issue.
Hands-free thermal imaging
Hand held thermal cameras are normal kit for many firefighters, but a helmet with thermal imaging developed in Switzerland, allows firefighters to work hands free. Thermal imaging enables quickly locating the fire source, which may be behind them and lets them see if objects are too hot to touch, such as door handles.
Fire investigators train with VR and AR
First responders can use VR and AR programmes to train for real life emergencies. There are many benefits, such as, the ability to choose different roles (paramedic at the scene, firefighter, commander in the tower centre, etc.) but it is also being used by forensic specialists for training.
A UK company has developed a VR software programme which offers a very realistic training for fire and rescue services. It has achieved this by using laser scanning and 360 degree HD photography to capture images from real fire scenes.
The programme enables users to walk around a room and inspect the area outside, as well as pick up objects, look for evidence and assess casualties. Meanwhile, the trainer can observe remotely from different perspectives including from a bird’s eye view and offer real-time advice.
The environment is safe and given that it would normally cost GBP 8 000 to run the same real life training, it will save greatly on costs as users can practice as many times as required.