Researchers at King’s College London and Sheffield Hallam University are working on a guidance robot for firefighters in dense smoke. The fire fighter would hold reigns attached to the robot, while walking about a meter behind the bot. Vibrations in the reigns would impart data on the size, shape and stiffness of anything the robot finds.
Over the last four years, the team has developed a tactile language for guidance robots. They’ve even tested their proof-of-concept system in a smoke-filled cave in Germany. Now they plan to build a prototype and test it in real-world, firefighting conditions.
Currently, firefighters facing dense smoke often have to feel their way along a wall or following ropes laid by the first firefighter on the scene. Help them move more quickly and easily is essential; Each firefighter only carries 20 minutes of oxygen at a time.
“We’ve made important advances in understanding robot-human interactions and applied these to a classic life-or-death emergency scenario where literally every second counts. Robots on reins could add an invaluable extra dimension to firefighting capabilities,” Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara of King’s College London said in a press release.
With the new system, the firefighter would wear a sleeve with electronic micro-vibrators that turn the signals sent back by the robot into data that the firefighter would be trained to interpret. The robot would also sense any hesitation from the firefighter and adjust pace accordingly. The robot’s programming would also try to predict the fire fighters actions, based past activity.