We've already seen robots that are made to help put out fires, but SmokeBot is a little different. Designed by a European consortium led by Sweden's Örebro University, it's intended to perform reconnaissance missions in low-visibility smoke-filled buildings, creating maps that firefighters can follow.
In its present form, SmokeBot is able to see through dense smoke using a combination of a stereo thermal camera, a 3D radar camera, and a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) unit. Images and other data are transmitted in real time to a human operator located outside the building, who is controlling the robot via an internet connection. Should the robot lose contact with that person, it will automatically make its way back to the last location at which it could access the internet.
SmokeBot is additionally equipped with high-bandwidth gas sensors, which are capable of detecting the type, temperature and concentration of gases present in the building. Using this data, it's able to warn firefighters if there is the risk of an explosion.
Before it can enter general use, however, SmokeBot will need to speed up a little. It currently takes around 15 to 30 minutes to collect sufficient data, which its designers say is too long when waiting to save people from a fire. That said, it may have other applications besides assisting in rescues.
"Another potential area where the robot could be of benefit is in agriculture," says Prof. Achim Lilienthal, leader of the project. "Here there is already a demand for robots that can see through dust. Gas sensors may also be used for measuring different kinds of gas emissions."
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