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Using Robots to Fight Fires

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Using Robots to Fight Fires

See how sensors, robotics, and remote controls are synergizing to help combat some dangerous scenarios where humans dare not go.

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Whilst robots have been used with increasing frequency in healthcare environments, these have primarily been in hospitals and care facilities, rather than in the support of emergency response teams.

A team from IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia are working to achieve just that, however. They’re developing a humanoid robot called WALK-MAN that they hope to deploy in fire rescue situations. The robot is capable of locating fire within a building, walk towards it, and then attempt to extinguish it, all while capturing images of the scene for teams to evaluate the situation.

The WALK-MAN was tested in an industrial plant scenario after an earthquake had caused gas leaks and fires, rendering it extremely dangerous for humans. The robot was able to safely navigate the room and then locate the fire and activate the extinguisher.

Suffice to say, WALK-MAN isn’t autonomous and requires a human operator to control it via a virtual interface and a sensorized suit. By being able to operate the robot remotely, however, it keeps humans out of harm's way.

Step by Step

WALK-MAN has already been improved significantly since its release in 2015, with the team especially keen to keep fabrication costs down and performance levels high. The latest version has a light upper body that allows the robot to stand at 1.85 meters tall whilst weighing just 102 kilos.

The light body has also allowed WALK-MAN to lower its energy consumption such that it can operate with a smaller battery for around two hours. They’ve also managed to reduce the bulk of the device, thus giving it not only greater flexibility but also more scope to squeeze through doorways and narrow passages.

Suffice to say, there are still numerous challenges to overcome before the device is ready for deployment out in the wild, but it’s something the team is continuing to work hard on.

“The main challenges are to increase gradually the autonomy of the robot control, and in this way achieve faster execution performance. Achieving faster locomotion as well as demonstrating more robust physical interaction performance are two other specific challenges we want to tackle. In particular, we hope to demonstrate a richer repertoire of “loco-manipulation” skills that incorporate a certain level of autonomy to cope with uncertainties on the manipulation loads and locomotion disturbances,” they explain.

It’s a fascinating project, and you can see WALK-MAN in action via the video below.

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