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Replacing Our Hook-And-Ladders With Drones: The Robot Firemen Of The Future

Aerial vehicles are already scouting fires ahead of manned crews. It’ll be a small step before they’re fighting fires, too.

Replacing Our Hook-And-Ladders With Drones: The Robot Firemen Of The Future
[Image: Burning building via Shutterstock]

By now, you’ve heard that drones aren’t just for tracking terrorists and taking down the bad guys. You’ve heard about drones doing useful things like delivering packages to far away places, catching poachers on the savannah, and bringing defibrillators to heart attack victims on golf courses. Well, here’s another example of drones-for-good: firefighting.

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Dubai Civil Defense, the city’s emergency management group, has ordered 15 “quadcopters” to patrol high-risk areas, monitor fires when they happen, and provide pictures for the media. Ahead of full crews going to a site, the drones will analyze the extent of the fire, allowing firefighters to be better prepared before they arrive.

“In case of a fire, four helicopters will circle the building. The officer-in-charge will check the monitor and will find what they need exactly to fight the fire,” Ali Salem Ghalaita, the division’s boss, told The National newspaper. Dubai’s Civil Defense plans to start using the vehicles later this year.

Firefighters from Connecticut and Melbourne have also used drones to check out fires before sending in manned crews. In one recent incident at a quarry near New Haven, they used a quadcopter to see how close a fire had got to a stack of explosives.

As well as scouting fires, Dubai is also exploring using a robot-like machine to fight them. Called Knight Hawk, it comes with water hoses and a foam and ventilation kit. Within 10 years, its creator, a Dutch company called Geoborn, expects to see completely autonomous machines. In the future, firefighters may not fight fires at all.

“Most fire brigades, whether in Belgium, the Netherlands or the U.K., do not allow their firefighters to enter a burning building,” says Folmer Kamminga, Geoborn’s managing director. “If a firefighter isn’t going to do that, then let a robot do it. Once there is demand for this, it will revolutionize the industry.”

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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