Wall-climbing Drone Aids in Fighting Highrise Fires

15 June 2017

A fire that engulfed a 24-story residential tower in London on June 13-14 killed at least 17 people and raised questions about fire safety in some tall buildings.

(Read "London Highrise Blaze Highlights Fire Systems and Codes.")

In January 2016, Engineering360 reported on a wall-climbing scout drone developed by Korean researchers. The drone can find the source of fires in high-rise buildings and locate people who may be trapped inside.

In the wake of the London fire, the previously published article may be especially timely.

Skyscraper fires are particularly difficult to contain because of their ability to spread rapidly in high-occupant-density spaces, and the challenge of fighting fires in the buildings’ vertical structure. Accessibility to skyscrapers at the time of a fire is limited, and it can be difficult to assess the initial situation.

A research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), led by Professor Hyun Myung of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, developed an unmanneFAROS can endure heat above 1,000° Celsius from butane gas and ethanol aerosol flames for over one minute. Image credit: KAIST.FAROS can endure heat above 1,000° Celsius from butane gas and ethanol aerosol flames for over one minute. Image credit: KAIST.d aerial vehicle, named the Fireproof Aerial Robot System (FAROS), that detects fires in skyscrapers, searches the inside of the building and transfers data in real time to the ground station.

FAROS, whose movements rely on a quadrotor system, can freely change its flight mode into that of a spider crawling on walls, and vice versa, facilitating unimpeded navigation inside a burning building.

The drone “estimates” its position by using a 2D laser scanner, an altimeter and an inertia measurement unit sensor to navigate autonomously. With the localization result, and using a thermal-imaging camera to recognize objects or people inside a building, FAROS can detect and find the fire-ignition point by using image-processing technology.

The drone’s body is covered with aramid fibers to protect its electric and mechanical components from the direct effects of flames. The skin also has a buffer of air underneath it, as well as a thermoelectric cooling system based on the Peltier effect to help maintain the air layer within a specific temperature range.

The research team demonstrated the feasibility of the localization system and wall-climbing mechanism in a smoky indoor environment (see video here). The fireproof test showed that the drone could endure heat of more than 1,000° Celsius from butane gas and ethanol aerosol flames for more than one minute.

To contact the author of this article, email david.wagman@ieeeglobalspec.com

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