A group of scientists, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), have developed a scout firefighter drone, capable of fighting fires in difficult to reach, high places. The drone can also locate the fire source and people trapped inside, climb walls and quickly navigate through fire mazes.
The skyscraper fires are one of the most dangerous fire types and particularly difficult to extinguish. They spread very fast, accessibility to buildings of such vertical structure is limited which makes the initial situation difficult to assess.
The KAIST research team, led by Professor Hyun Myung of the Civil and Environmental Department developed an unmanned aerial vehicle, called the Fireproof Aerial RObot System (FAROS). The vehicle can detect fires in skyscrapers, search the inside of the building and can transfer real-time data from fire scenes to the ground station.
The FAROS is an extended edition of the Climbing Aerial RObot System (CAROS) developed in 2014. In addition to its extensive capabilities, it can fly and climb the walls. Its body is covered with aramid fiber which protects electric and mechanical components from the direct effects of the flame. This makes the drone fireproof and flame-retardant.
The fiber skin is equipped with a buffer of air and a thermoelectric cooling based on the Peltier effect, which helps to maintain the air layer within the desired temperature range.
Video credit: KAIST
The system utilizes a 2D laser scanner, an altimeter, and an Inertia Measurement Unit sensor to navigate autonomously. It has an inbuilt thermal-imaging camera which can recognize objects or people inside the building, in combination with the localization result. The drone can also locate the point of fire-ignition by using its image-processing technology.
The drone's movements rely on a quadrotor system and can change the flight mode into a spider's crawling on walls. These capabilities provide the system with capabilities to navigate the labyrinth of narrow spaces filled with debris and rubble inside the burning structures.
The FAROS' capabilities have been demonstrated in a smoky indoor environment, and fireproof tests showed the drone can withstand temperatures over 1 000 °C (1 832 °F) from butane gas and ethanol aerosol flames for over one minute.
"As cities become more crowded with skyscrapers and super structures, fire incidents in these high-rise buildings are life-threatening massive disasters. The FAROS can be aptly deployed to the disaster site at an early stage of such incidents to minimize the damage and maximize the safety and efficiency of a rescue mission," Professor Myung said.
The scientists are working on improving their fireproof design for the exteroceptive sensors further, as they could be more exposed to fire than the drone's inner components.
Featured image: The FAROS drone. Image credit: KAIST