Home Bots & Brains ‘Flying dragon’ robot to fight fires from a distance

‘Flying dragon’ robot to fight fires from a distance

by Pieter Werner

A team of Japanese researchers has unveiled a prototype that may eventually join firefighter teams globally: the Dragon Firefighter. Unlike mythical dragons that breathe fire, this innovative creation is designed to combat flames with powerful blasts of water, making it an invaluable ally in situations too perilous for human firefighters.

Published in the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI, the blueprint of this flying firehose robot is now available as Open Science, allowing roboticists worldwide to construct their own Dragon Firefighters. Dr. Yuichi Ambe, an assistant professor at Osaka University, spearheaded the project, aiming to create a four-meter-long, remotely controllable device capable of efficiently and safely extinguishing fires by targeting the flames directly.

This project began in 2016 in Prof Satoshi Tadokoro’s laboratory at Tohoku University. Since its inception, 11 dedicated researchers and students have significantly contributed to the robot’s evolution, incorporating insights from Japanese firefighters to enhance its practicality and effectiveness.

The Dragon Firefighter sets itself apart with its unique jet propulsion system. It hovers two meters above the ground, propelled by eight controllable water jets emanating from its center and head. This allows the robot to change shape and direct its water stream precisely at the flames. A wheeled cart, connected to a fire truck’s 14,000-liter water reservoir, follows closely behind, supplying the robot with water and steering control.

Equipped with both conventional and thermal imaging cameras, the Dragon Firefighter can pinpoint the fire’s location, delivering water at a forceful rate of 6.6 liters per second and a pressure of up to one megapascal. Its debut at the World Robot Summit 2020 in Fukushima was a resounding success, where it extinguished a ceremonial flame from four meters away.

Dr. Yu Yamauchi highlighted the continuous improvements post the initial demonstration. The team is addressing challenges such as the robot’s passive dampening mechanism, which was found to be too slow for quick deployment, and the heat-induced deformation of the corrugated tube holding the water hose and cables.

While the Dragon Firefighter has shown promise, it’s estimated to take another decade before it’s ready for real-world firefighting scenarios. The primary challenge lies in extending its reach beyond 10 meters and developing effective tactics tailored to its unique capabilities.

Photo credit: Tadokoro Laboratory, Tohoku University, Japan

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