The ‘FireDrone’, a possible new firefighting technology, can go into burning buildings, scope out fires, and deliver real-time data on people inside
Drones are already used from afar in firefighting to take aerial footage, hoist fire hoses up skyscrapers, or drop fire retardant in remote areas to slow the spread of wildfires.
However, current drones developed for firefighting are generally unable to fly much closer because they cannot handle the high temperatures and would melt, and their electronics would fail.
In interviews with firefighters, drones which could get much closer to buildings, could really help to prepare first responders for entering burning buildings or woodland.
So, researchers aimed to develop a new drone equipped with cameras and carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors which could provide crucial information about the layout and composition of fires.
Withstanding Temperatures Of Up To 200°C For Ten Minutes
This drone, developed collaboratively at Imperial College London and Empa, can deliver vital first-hand data from within danger zones to emergency responders, all while withstanding high temperatures.
The drone is made of a new thermal aerogel insulation material and houses an inbuilt cooling system to help it withstand temperatures of up to 200°C for ten minutes.
The researchers believe FireDrone could eventually be used to scope out fires for people and extra hazards as the latest firefighting technology, which is currently at the prototype stage.
Inspiration From Thermoregulating Materials
The researchers took inspiration from animals which live in extreme temperatures, like the penguin, arctic fox, and spittlebug, which all have appropriate layers of fat, and fur, or produce their own layers of thermoregulating material that allow them to thrive in extreme conditions.
Using this in firefighting technology, they created a protective structural shell made of lightweight, thermally super-insulating materials like polyimide aerogel and glass fibres.
The drone was then coated with super-reflecting aluminium to reflect heat. This entails that the super-insulation prevents the materials from shrinking and pore structures from degrading after exposure to high temperatures.
Within The Protective Exoskeleton, Its Temperature-Sensitive Components Included:
- Regular and infrared cameras
- CO2 sensors
- Video transmitters
- Flight controllers
- Radio receivers.
The Firefighting Technology Can Withstand Extremely Hot And Cold Temperatures
To keep temperatures down, 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 close to flames at a firefighter training centre.
It was also tested in a glacier tunnel in Switzerland to study how the system behaves in very cold temperatures. As it was developed with inspiration from arctic animals, FireDrone was proven to also be used in extremely cold environments, in polar regions and in glaciers.
Principal Investigator Professor Mirko Kovac, at Imperial College London and Empa, said: “Until they enter the danger zone, firefighters can’t be certain of what or who they’ll find, and what challenges they’ll encounter.
“FireDrone could be sent in ahead to gather crucial information – noting trapped people, building layouts, unexpected hazards – so that responders can prepare accordingly to keep themselves safe and potentially save more lives.
“The application of drones is often limited by environmental factors like temperature. We demonstrate a way to overcome this and are convinced our findings will help to unleash the future power of drones for extreme environments”.
“Deploying robots in extreme environments provides great benefits to reducing risks to human lives, and who better to look to than animals that have evolved their own ways of adapting to these extremes using inspirating from how animals keep cool in heat.”