Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Robotics Technology

London's Robotic Fire Brigade 82

Posted by kdawson
from the playing-with-fire dept.
dustpan writes "The BBC has a story up about a quartet of robotic fire fighters that the London Fire Brigade is testing and with which have been achieving 'tremendous results.' The robots were developed by QinetiQ, which is a defense contractor. The LFB has been testing the units since last year and the machines are primarily used in fires involving acetylene canisters. The group commander for hazardous materials and environmental protection with the LFB says that the robots have cut the time to resolve these potential hazards from 24 hours to 3. From the article: 'Three years ago we were shutting down parts of London for over 24 hours every other week. Now it doesn't even make the news.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

London's Robotic Fire Brigade

Comments Filter:
  • by icebike (68054) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @06:36PM (#28860111)

    Its the same platform type police have been using for years now.

    Nothing new here, other than the uniform of the operators.

    Is it really a robot when its driven and operated by a remote human? It has no autonomous functionality.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ls671 (1122017) *

      I agree... plus where is the asbestos armor ?

      It looks like this robot components would melt pretty quickly in presence of fire ;-))

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Smivs (1197859)

        Also I suspect it suffers from the 'Dalek problem'...it can't climb stairs. I assume that this is not too much of a problem as most acetylene cylinders are probably kept at ground level. Certainly if it keeps Firefighters safer, it must be a good thing.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          A lot of bomb-disposal "robots" have stair-climbing wheels attached to one end-these typically are small wheels with large spikes on.

          Anyway, real Daleks don't climb stairs, they just level the building.

          • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @07:43PM (#28860647) Homepage Journal

            Anyway, real Daleks don't climb stairs, they just level the building.

            All you have to do is wait then. The acetylene will do that for you.

          • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

            by fooslacker (961470)
            I'm wondering what got modded insightful? I assume the news of the wheels used to climb stairs would be "Informative" hence I'm left with the assumption that the Dalek comment was the insightful bit....ahh slashdot, thou art true to form =)
          • Marvin stood at the end of the bridge corridor. He was not in fact a particularly small robot. His
            silver body gleamed in the dusty sunbeams and shook with the continual barrage which the building
            was still undergoing.
            He did, however, look pitifully small as the gigantic black tank rolled to a halt in front of him. The
            tank examined him with a probe. The probe withdrew.
            Marvin stood there.
            "Out of my way little robot," growled the tank.
            "I'm afraid," said Marvin, "that I've been left here to stop you."
            The probe extended again for a quick recheck. It withdrew again.
            "You? Stop me?" roared the tank. "Go on!"
            "No, really I have," said Marvin simply.
            "What are you armed with?" roared the tank in disbelief.
            "Guess," said Marvin.
            The tank's engines rumbled, its gears ground. Molecule-sized electronic relays deep in its micro-
            brain flipped backwards and forwards in consternation.
            "Guess?" said the tank.

            [...]

            "Yes, go on," said Marvin to the huge battle machine, "you'll never guess."
            "Errmmm ..." said the machine, vibrating with unaccustomed thought, "laser beams?"
            Marvin shook his head solemnly.
            "No," muttered the machine in its deep guttural rumble, "Too obvious. Anti-matter ray?" it
            hazarded.
            "Far too obvious," admonished Marvin.
            "Yes," grumbled the machine, somewhat abashed, "Er ... how about an electron ram?"
            This was new to Marvin.
            "What's that?" he said.
            "One of these," said the machine with enthusiasm.
            From its turret emerged a sharp prong which spat a single lethal blaze of light. Behind Marvin a
            wall roared and collapsed as a heap of dust. The dust billowed briefly, then settled.
            "No," said Marvin, "not one of those."
            "Good though, isn't it?"
            "Very good," agreed Marvin.
            "I know," said the Frogstar battle machine, after another
            moment's consideration, "you must have one of those new Xanthic
            Re-Structron Destabilized Zenon Emitters!"

            "Nice, aren't they?" said Marvin.
            "That's what you've got?" said the machine in considerable awe.
            "No," said Marvin.
            "Oh," said the machine, disappointed, "then it must be ..."
            "You're thinking along the wrong lines," said Marvin, "You're failing to take into account
            something fairly basic in the relationship between men and robots."
            "Er, I know," said the battle machine, "is it ..." it tailed off into thought again.
            "Just think," urged Marvin, "they left me, an ordinary, menial robot, to stop you, a gigantic heavy-
            duty battle machine, whilst they ran off to save themselves. What do you think they would leave me
            with?"
            "Oooh, er," muttered the machine in alarm, "something pretty damn devastating I should expect."
            "Expect!" said Marvin, "oh yes, expect. I'll tell you what they
            gave me to protect myself with shall I?"
            "Yes, alright," said the battle machine, bracing itself.
            "Nothing," said Marvin.
            There was a dangerous pause.
            "Nothing?" roared the battle machine.
            "Nothing at all," intoned Marvin dismally, "not an electronic sausage."
            The machine heaved about with fury.
            "Well, doesn't that just take the biscuit!" it roared, "Nothing, eh? Just don't think, do they?"
            "And me," said Marvin in a soft low voice, "with this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left
            side."
            "Makes you spit, doesn't it?"
            "Yes," agreed Marvin with feeling.
            "Hell that makes me angry," bellowed the machine, "think I'll smash that wall down!"
            The electron ram stabbed out another searing blaze of light and took out the wall next to the
            machine.
            "How do you think I feel?" said Marvin bitterly.
            "Just ran off and left you, did they?" the machine thundered.
            "Yes," said Marvin.
            "I think I'll shoot down their bloody ceiling as well!" raged the tank.
            It took out the ceiling of the bridge.
            "That's very impressive," murmured Marvin.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      If it makes some decisions for itself, it might be a robot. Arguably, ABS is an example of robotics in action, so the line is pretty blurry.

    • a bomb disposal robot is still a robot isn't it? and most of those are remote-controlled
    • (UAV engineer here)

      It has no autonomous functionality.

      Not necessarily true. Like most UGVs, it has autonomous terrain handling, station keeping and obstacle avoidance functions. But it requires a human navigator, and a human operator for the effectors and other payload delivery.

      So, you can accurately say it's a "robotically piloted waldo" if you wish. The media likes to simplify this into simply "robot," granted, and not without some sensationalism.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hedwards (940851)
        I don't think the public, at least in the US, would be willing to accept a robot that could actually make its own decisions. We'll accept things that can choose how precisely to stay upright or how exactly to best handle air currents in flight, but much beyond that would tend to freak people out.

        Sort of on top of that, I think there's a huge amount of work necessary to actually have a robot that can properly tackle a building fire.
    • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @07:43PM (#28860655) Journal
      Teleoperated machines have a colloquial term in two syllables, the "Waldo". This from an old Heinlein story "Waldo & Magic Incorporated".
      • Teleoperated machines have a colloquial term in two syllables, the "Waldo". This from an old Heinlein story "Waldo & Magic Incorporated".

        And most people think it's a guy in a striped shirt and a funny hat.

        I confess that when I think "waldo" I think robotic arm such as a manipulator attached to a deep sea suit or something in a dangerous environment operated by a scientist behind foot-thick glass. I think "drone" does a better job of conveying the idea of a teleoperated machine. Robot conveys the sense of autonomous behavior, even though it can also accept orders from a human. If a human has to control every part of the way it operates, I thi

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I always thought that a waldo specifically referred to a control system for some sort of manipulator that featured feedback. It has always been a great mystery to me why backhoe operators haven't been offered something like this, perhaps using a pneumatic system alongside the hydraulic. You wouldn't move your arm very far, and the system would support its weight, so that should eliminate most concerns about fatigue.

    • by benjfowler (239527) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @08:37PM (#28860957)

      I recently went to an open day at the Joint European Tours near Oxford the UK. It's the world's biggest fusion reactor currently in service, and one of only a few of it's kind that can run on a mix of deuterium-tritium fuel. It can get highly radioactive, so they use some very impressive robots.

      The machines they use are in a class all their own. They're huge, high precision machines that can be used on the outside of the tokamak, suspended from a telescoping boom riding on a gantry, and also has a snake like boom to access the inside of the tokamak. It's got human arm-like end effectors, can carry several tons, and supplies force feedback to the operators. They also have lots of what looks like fancy motion planning software to help out.

      However the scientist leading the tour didn't look like the type to suffer fools gladly and got a little testy with me, because they're not actually robots. They're "remote handling systems".. and apparently there's a difference between a 'robot' and a 'remote handling system'. He implied, but didn't actually say that very little work with these machines would be automated (too complicated, robots crashing into stuff left lying around be technicians is apparently a bad thing around anything nuclear.

      So there you go: as long as there's always a human in the loop, apparently it isn't a robot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shervinemami (1270718)
      It's not like there is an official meaning of the word Robot that has been clearly defined for hundreds of years. Basically if people want to call it a robot then its a robot. I've built both autonomous and human controlled robots before and even if there's no autonomous functionality at all in a robot, it can still have a lot of similar problems to autonomous robots, which is why its generally classified as a robot, as opposed to "machine" or "remotely operated vehicle".

      I mean you wouldn't call a computer
    • by artg (24127)
      > Is it really a robot when its driven and operated by a remote human? It has no autonomous functionality. Yes. A robot is, more than anything, a programmable agent. It's name comes from Robota, the Czech word for forced labour. We have ascribed lots of other features to them, often expecting autonomous action, reaction to their environment or human form but these are all a matter of opinion and usage : there is no authority that replaces Capek's use of the word as the base definition. Autonomous funct
    • by physburn (1095481)
      Looks like the same robot (actually ROV) that the army was using for bomb disposal for years.

      ---

      Robotics Feed [feeddistiller.com] @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

  • they have a robotic fire brigade pipe band.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    until you get crazed fireman robots with fire axes and that are on fire.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @06:59PM (#28860341) Homepage

    Now all they have to do is make sure they don't flip the switch on the robots' backs from "fight" to "cause".

  • by PhunkySchtuff (208108) <kai&automatica,com,au> on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @07:03PM (#28860359) Homepage

    I, for one, welcome our new Robotic Firefighting Overlords...

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @07:20PM (#28860479) Homepage

    The LFB has been testing the units since last year and the machines are primarily used in fires involving acetylene canisters. The group commander for hazardous materials and environmental protection with the LFB says that the robots have cut the time to resolve these potential hazards from 24 hours to 3. From the article: 'Three years ago we were shutting down parts of London for over 24 hours every other week.

    Apparently there are a lot of rogue acetylene canisters catching fire in London on a regular basis. I weld as a hobby and in all the welding shops I've been in, in all the classes, I've never seen an acetylene tank go off. And with all the welders I've ever met in all those places, maybe one has ever seen a tank go off. Is it something with your gauges over there? The tank construction? Seems to happen a lot more there than it does here.

    Acetylene is nothing you want to dick with. If it gets away from you, then I'd sure want a robot going in to deal with it. [youtube.com]

    • by Dynedain (141758)

      My impression from the article isn't that the containers are specifically causing fires, but rather there are a lot of fires that may involve the containers.

      • My impression from the article isn't that the containers are specifically causing fires, but rather there are a lot of fires that may involve the containers.

        Yeah if an acetylene bottle goes off the fire may end very quickly. The trick is not to be around when that happens so you get Marvin the paranoid android to do your firefighting for you.

        Some years ago a plumbers ute blew up on a freeway here in Melbourne. IIRC the driver was lucky to survive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Apparently there are a lot of rogue acetylene canisters catching fire in London on a regular basis

      It's not just the acetylene. The gas is often stored in suspension in liquid acetone [wikipedia.org], which is also flammable and can be explosive, as well as being a solvent for everything from nail polish to styrofoam. That stuff's nasty.

      • Yeah it is. We lost a house a number of years ago to a fire. The firefighters almost had the house under control, and the separate garage was also involved. They were focusing on the house first, and then learned that we had acetylene in there.... Needless to say they went from focusing on the house so much to the garage. In the end the garage made it, and the house didn't.
      • by Inda (580031)
        I used to work in a factory where we used all manner of chemicals. Most were flammable, some carcinogenic, some just plain horrible.

        Acetone was only one of two we kept outside, in an explosion bin, 20 metres from any buildings. The other was paraffin.

        My wife uses it in our tiny bedroom, with the windows closed, with the hot hair straighteners on.

        If only she'd believe me...
    • Apparently there are a lot of rogue acetylene canisters catching fire in London on a regular basis.

      It's not really surprising that their acetylene canisters are catching on fire when you consider their fire extinguishers [youtube.com].

    • It's not that the containers cause fires (though I would guess the welding torches fed from them do from time to time), it's that properties catch fire for a whole number of reasons and those properties sometimes contain gas cylinders (of which acetelene is the nastiest common one but even things like butane and propane can be pretty nasty). Furthermore until the fire brigade can contact the owner they often don't know if cylinders are present and if so what they contain.

      • by dkf (304284)

        It's not that the containers cause fires (though I would guess the welding torches fed from them do from time to time), it's that properties catch fire for a whole number of reasons and those properties sometimes contain gas cylinders (of which acetelene is the nastiest common one but even things like butane and propane can be pretty nasty). Furthermore until the fire brigade can contact the owner they often don't know if cylinders are present and if so what they contain.

        While you're right on one level, acetylene is a special nasty case. The issue is that it's unstable at high pressure, so that safety valves on acetylene cylinders have to give way at relatively low temperatures and pressures. OK, this does mean that you're less likely to have them acting like an explosive shell, but it does mean that you have a real risk of the cylinder going off like a burning explosive rocket. A 200m exclusion zone seems very sensible to me!

    • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @01:59AM (#28862737) Journal
      "I weld as a hobby and in all the welding shops I've been in, in all the classes, I've never seen an acetylene tank go off. And with all the welders I've ever met in all those places, maybe one has ever seen a tank go off. Is it something with your gauges over there? The tank construction? Seems to happen a lot more there than it does here."

      I own a fridge, most people I know own or use a fridge, in the last 50yrs I have only ever seen one fridge explode and that was in a house fire. The firefighters at that fire told me exploding fridges are a common occurance, but what the hell do they know?
    • No - for a couple of years, the risk of acetyline cylinders has been routinely exaggerated, and precautionarly measured so wildly excessive (Like shutting down several blocks - "because there MIGHT be acetyline in the shed"), that people in in London have been wondering what the real story was ..

      now we know - the LFB had paid loads of money for fancy hardware, and needed to justify it! We had thought they were planning a ban on acetyline, or more likely some kind of ""safety" tax (they probably still plan

    • by xaxa (988988)

      When there are fires (typically buildings, especially ones under construction or renovation) involving flammable gas cylinders the fire brigade in the UK impose a 200m exclusion zone. Look on YouTube for the reason -- if a cylinder explodes it's pretty bad for the surrounding area.

      This can be extremely inconvenient, as a 400m diameter circle in London is quite likely to cross a railway line or major road, which requires closing the railway/road until the fire brigade are confident the cylinders are safe. If

    • by MateuszM (1110895)

      And with all the welders I've ever met in all those places, maybe one has ever seen a tank go off.

      Well, that's perhaps because when a tank goes off, usually there is not enough of the welder left to tell the story...

  • the fire.

  • Broke regulator (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It is awesome to seeing robots being used for peaceful purposes. That said, this looks like your typical military contractor--over budget and delivering substantially less than possible. Seriously, why do you need that many different robots? I can understand a couple--but that many seems overly complicated.

    Did anyone else notice in the movie, when the robot set the cylinder down, it broke the regulator off? If it'd been charged, that would have created a quite avoidable mess.

    • by scheme (19778)

      Did anyone else notice in the movie, when the robot set the cylinder down, it broke the regulator off? If it'd been charged, that would have created a quite avoidable mess.

      I don't think the regulator was really attached correctly to the cylinder. The robot just drops the cyclinder end from about 6 inches and the regulator just pops out. I'm fairly sure the regulator would be more secure if the cylinder were actually charged.

  • Trumpton (Score:3, Funny)

    by owlnation (858981) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @07:55PM (#28860719)
    Nothing new here. Trumpton had artificial firemen in the 60s. See! [flickr.com]
  • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Tuesday July 28, 2009 @08:21PM (#28860863)

    This sounded familiar, but I couldn't quite place it; thanks to Google Books [google.com] I'm remembering a pretty cool section in Robot Builder's Bonanza [amazon.com] on DIY robot firefighters, building up simple circuits to ever more capable, fire-detection systems, control schemes, and automatically controlled extinguishing apparatus.

    Obviously not quite the same thing, but it was pretty cool when I read it, and so I'm taking this opportunity to plug the awesomeness of building DIY firefighting robots. =]

  • Now send them back in time to stop the Great Fire of London in 1666, and we have a plot for a new Terminator movie (without the terminating part, however).

  • I, for one (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Mr. Freeman (933986)
    Welcome our new fire-fighting robot overlords.
  • Interesting concept. Rubber Tires, Rubber Hoses; all I could think of was the pile of slag that the fire would make. I spit Tea all over my keyboard when the Robot carrying the Welding tank drops it and the pressure guage falls/breaks off. If that tank had been pressured, THEN there would have been torpedo fire, about 20 to 100 feet from the demo 'drop' site.
  • When they become self aware that man causes most fires we're doomed !

Serving coffee on aircraft causes turbulence.

Working...