Fire-fighting drones with heat sensors could be the latest in firefighting technology

The FireDrone, a possible new firefighting technology, can enter burning buildings, detect fires and provide real-time data on the people inside

Drones are already being used from afar in firefighting to take aerial video footage, hoist fire hydrants on skyscrapers or drop flame retardants into remote areas to slow the spread of wildfires.

However, current drones developed for firefighting are generally unable to fly much closer because they are unable to withstand the high temperatures and would melt and their electronics fail.

In interviews with firefighters, drones that could get very close to buildings could really help prepare first responders for entering burning buildings or woods.

Therefore, the researchers aimed to develop a new drone equipped with cameras and carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors capable of providing crucial information on the arrangement and composition of fires.

Withstands temperatures up to 200°C for ten minutes

This drone, developed in collaboration with Imperial College London and Empa, can deliver vital first-hand data from danger zones to rescuers, all while withstanding high temperatures.

The drone is made from a new thermal airgel insulating material and houses an integrated cooling system that helps it withstand temperatures of up to 200C for ten minutes.

Researchers believe that FireDrone could eventually be used to detect fires for people and extra hazards like the latest firefighting technology, which is currently in the prototype stage.

FireDrone tested on a glacier
FireDrone tested in a glacier at Imperial College London

Inspiration from thermoregulating materials

Researchers were inspired by animals that live in extreme temperatures, such as the penguin, arctic fox and spittlebug, all of which have appropriate layers of blubber and fur, or produce their own layers of thermoregulatory material that allows them to thrive in extreme conditions. .

Using this in firefighting technology, they created a protective structural shell made of lightweight, thermally super-insulating materials such as polyimide airgel and glass fibers.

The drone was then coated with super reflective aluminum to reflect the heat. This means that superinsulation prevents shrinkage of materials and degradation of pore structures after exposure to high temperatures.

Within the protective exoskeleton, its temperature sensitive components included:

  • Normal and infrared cameras
  • CO2 sensors
  • Video transmitters
  • Flight controllers
  • Batteries
  • Radio receivers.
Firefighters fight a wildfire because El nino events, climate change and global warming are a driving factor of global wildfire trends.
Image Toa55 | iStock

Fire-fighting technology can withstand extremely hot and cold temperatures

To keep temperatures low, the researchers used the release and evaporation of gas from the CO2 sensors to build a cooling system.

They tested the drone in temperature-controlled chambers and flew it near flames at a firefighter training center.

It has also been tested in a glacier tunnel in Switzerland to study how the system behaves at very low temperatures. Since it was developed with inspiration from arctic animals, FireDrone has proven to be used even in extremely cold environments, polar regions and glaciers.

“Deploying robots in extreme environments offers great benefits for reducing risk to human lives”

Lead researcher Professor Mirko Kovac, from Imperial College London and Empa, said: ‘Until they enter the danger zone, firefighters cannot be certain what or who they will find and what challenges they will encounter. .

FireDrone could be sent in advance to collect crucial information detecting trapped people, building layouts, unexpected dangers so that rescuers can prepare accordingly to keep themselves safe and potentially save more lives.

The application of drones is often limited by environmental factors such as temperature. We demonstrate a way to overcome this problem and are convinced that our findings will help unleash the future power of drones for extreme environments.

Deploying robots in extreme environments offers big benefits for reducing risks to human lives, and who better to watch than animals that have evolved their own ways to adapt to these extremes inspired by how animals keep cool in heat.

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