In many sci-fi tales, there’s some form of robotics that AIDS WITH OR HANDLES emergency services. But this scenario isn’t part of some far-flung future – the use of robotic systems in firefighting today is on the rise.

Transparency Market Research (TMR), in its piece “Robotic Firefighters Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2019 – 2027”, defines robotic firefighters as unmanned ground vehicles that are remotely controlled by humans to extinguish fires. 

“Fire accidents are one of the most devastating events which lead to loss of lives, property damage and fatal injuries to firefighters,” the company, which provides global business research reports and consulting services, points out. “Therefore, governments of various countries are encouraging the incorporation of firefighting robots and increasing the use of advanced technologies.” 

TMR adds that leading robotics companies are designing and developing advanced firefighting solutions with a higher degree of safety features and functionality. “They are equipped with advanced sensors and GPS systems. However, factors such as limited interoperability of equipment, pre-processing of data in critical situations and accuracy of data may hinder the growth of the market.” 

But firefighter robots are playing an important role in harsh and hazardous firefighting environments. Moreover, further technological advancement is expected to help the robotic firefighters’ market to grow in the future. 

“Robotic firefighters, due to their mechanical design and remote/automated operations, can be used in places or cases where human reachability is restricted,” the report notes, “for instance, high-rise buildings or narrow/low height passages and extreme temperature zones. This is one of the critical factors driving the adoption of robotic firefighters.” 

By region, the robotic firefighters’ market is dominated by North America and Europe. “These regions have been early adopters of technology-enhanced products and have required regulatory and infrastructural support to augment the early applications. Regions such as Asia Pacific, however, hold huge potential, provided favourable regulatory conditions are developed as the market is largely driven by demand from government or federal bodies.” 

In Europe, Milrem Robotics (a developer of ground robotics) and InnoVfoam (a specialist in foam extinguishing technology) are developing robot firefighting systems to assist or even replace firefighters in the most hostile environments. 

The jointly developed firefighting solutions combine Milrem Robotics’ unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), Multiscope Rescue and InnoVfoam’s various firefighting systems, specifically foam proportioning systems and fire monitors. 

“In addition to fires in urban environments there are large scale forest and landscape fires every year that endanger the environment, the lives of inhabitants and especially firefighters,” says Kuldar Väärsi, CEO of Milrem Robotics. “The systems we are developing with InnoVfoam can alleviate dangers firefighters face and help contain fires faster.” 

The firefighting robots are remotely operated by firefighters who remain at a safe distance while receiving a complete overview of the operation area via various cameras, including thermal and infrared, and sensors on board the robot that can additionally detect gas or chemical leaks. 

The fire monitors can also be operated independently from the UGV, thanks to separate cameras on the UGV. This allows the vehicle to change position while maintaining a perfect overview of the fire. 

The Multiscope Rescue has a maximum payload capacity of 1 200 kg and pull force of 21 000 Nm, allowing it to be equipped with a variety of firefighting specific payloads including foam or water tanks, but also tethered drones for better situational awareness. 

Robot firefighters can also deliver heavy firehoses to reach areas and enter structures that are inaccessible with bigger vehicles or may collapse on top of firefighters. In the case of forest or landscape fires, the robot firefighters can be airdropped to start limiting the spread of fires. 

While it might take some time before this technology makes its way to South Africa and the rest of our continent, the future, definitely, is now. It will be interesting to see how far robotics advances and in which other ways it will aid the heroes that risk their lives to save others.  

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