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Incredible ‘flying dragon’ robot fights fires from a distance with powerful water blasts

[Dec. 24, 2023: JD Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]

The Dragon Firefighter in action at the opening ceremony of the World Robot Summit on 08 Oct 2021 in Fukushima, Japan. (CREDIT: Tadokoro Laboratory, Tohoku University, Japan)

In a breakthrough development that seems straight out of a science fiction movie, Japanese researchers have unveiled a remarkable creation: a flying dragon-like robot designed to combat fires with powerful water blasts. This innovative firefighter robot, aptly named the "Dragon Firefighter," may soon become an indispensable addition to firefighting teams worldwide, addressing situations that are too perilous for human intervention.

The blueprint for this extraordinary invention has been made available to the global community through an Open Science publication in Frontiers in Robotics and AI, allowing roboticists around the world to harness its potential for the greater good.


"We here present a prototype of a four-meter-long, remotely controllable flying firehose robot, engineered to safely and efficiently extinguish fires in buildings by directly approaching the fire sources," explained joint corresponding author Dr. Yuichi Ambe, an assistant professor at Osaka University.

(A) Dragon Firefighter. (B) Computer-aided design (CAD) of previous nozzle unit. (C) Structure of the nozzle unit. (CREDIT: Frontiers in Robotics and AI)

This remarkable creation was brought to life through the collaborative efforts of a research team from Prof. Satoshi Tadokoro's laboratory at Tohoku University. The journey began in 2016, with 11 researchers and students contributing to its continuous evolution. Throughout the development process, the team maintained a close dialogue with Japanese firefighters to gain insights into their specific needs and challenges.


Jet Propulsion for a Fiery Challenge

The Dragon Firefighter stands out not only for its dragon-like appearance but also for its ingenious firefighting capabilities. This firefighting marvel takes flight by employing a unique method: eight controllable jets of water, emanating from its center and head, propel it upward to a height of two meters above the ground.


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The firehose can adapt its shape and orientation to target flames directly, guided by a control unit situated on a wheeled cart following closely behind. This cart is connected to a fire truck equipped with a massive water reservoir containing 14,000 liters of water.

Each of the nozzles on the Dragon Firefighter expels water at an impressive rate of 6.6 liters per second, with a pressure capable of reaching up to one megapascal. To enhance its firefighting prowess, the hose's tip incorporates both a conventional and thermal imaging camera, aiding in the precise location of fires amidst the chaos.


A Baptism of Fire

The Dragon Firefighter's maiden mission took place during the opening ceremony of the World Robot Summit 2020 (WRS2020), held in Fukushima in September 2021. During this high-stakes event, it successfully extinguished the ceremonial flame, consisting of fireballs ignited by another robot, at a distance of four meters. This inaugural demonstration not only showcased the Dragon's capabilities but also provided valuable lessons that shaped its subsequent improvements.

Dr. Yu Yamauchi, an assistant professor at Akita Prefectural University and another corresponding author, shared insights into the post-demonstration developments: "Since the demonstration at WRS2020, we have continued to work on improving our Dragon and have learned many new things."


One significant discovery was that the original passive dampening mechanism designed to counteract the Dragon Firefighter's body oscillations proved impractical due to the time it took to prepare for flight. Additionally, the team recognized that exposure to heat from fires could lead to detrimental plastic deformation when using the corrugated tube responsible for housing the water hose and electric cables.

Overview of the demonstration at WRS. (B) Developmed DFF System. (CREDIT: Frontiers in Robotics and AI)

Continual Progress and Future Prospects

The study also delves into a series of other enhancements designed to make the Dragon Firefighter even more efficient. These include improved waterproofing, a nozzle unit capable of handling a broader range of net forces, and an upgraded mechanism for managing water flow. However, the journey of innovation is far from over.


Dr. Ambe projects, "We estimate that it will take approximately 10 more years to deploy our robot in real-world firefighting scenarios. The primary challenge will be to extend its reach to beyond 10 meters. Developing effective firefighting tactics tailored to this robot's unique capabilities will likewise be a critical aspect of further development."

While there are challenges to overcome and improvements to be made, there's no denying that this dragon-like marvel is poised to become an invaluable asset for firefighting teams worldwide, ushering in a new era of fire suppression and safety.

For more science and technology news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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