Dubai turns to drones for firefighting
DUBAI // Remote-control robots equipped with fire hoses and flying surveillance drones could be used to tackle blazes in the near future.
Dubai Civil Defence has bought 15 “quad-copters” – remote-controlled drones that will be used to patrol high-risk areas, such as industrial zones, to monitor and record fires.
In the event of a blaze, the drones, operated from Civil Defence stations, will be used to fly around a building on fire to help determine how best to handle the situation before firefighters arrive at the scene, reducing their risk.
Col Rashid Al Falasi of the Dubai Civil Defence said the drones were being trialled before being fully rolled out across the force, which was likely to happen this year.
A special division of the Operations Department at Dubai Civil Defence has been set up to operate the drones. The division has two staffers, but six more are being trained.
“In case of a fire, four helicopters will circle the building,” said Ali Salem Ghalaita, the head of the division. “The officer-in-charge will check the monitor and will find what they need exactly to fight the fire.”
There are three main quad-copters – one for patrol and checking offences, another for supporting fire-fighting operations, and the third to provide aerial shots for media activities.
Each drone has a 45-minute battery life. To boost their effectiveness, patrol bikes have been equippped with special cases to carry the drones for easy deployment at the scene of a fire.
Col Falasi said the Dubai Government wanted the civil defence agency to have cutting-edge technology.
“Because of that, we will look at all new technology, but we must check if it has gone through proper testing first,” he said.
The agency was also looking at a robot firefighter that would be produced by the end of the year by Naffco, a firefighting equipment manufacturer, the colonel said.
It resembles a small firefighting vehicle and is fitted with foam, water hoses, and ventilation equipment.
It can be controlled remotely by technicians from a distance of up to 15 kilometres away.
The robot, named Knight Hawk, has heat sensors and a navigation system, but its Dutch developer, Geoborn, said it was only a matter of time before it became fully autonomous, with the ability to fight almost any kind of fire.
Folmer Kamminga, Geoborn’s managing director, said: “Most fire brigades, whether in Belgium, the Netherlands or the UK, do not allow their firefighters to enter a burning building.
“If a firefighter isn’t going to do that, then let a robot do it. Once there is demand for this, it will revolutionise the industry.
“There will be big steps in the next 10 years. I’m 66 now, but by the time I’m 76, maybe everything will be completely automated.
“By the time my grandchild enters this industry, maybe all they’ll need to do is to press a button and robots will completely extinguish a fire.”
Col Al Falasi said the civil defence force was aware of the Knight Hawk, but it would need to see more tests before it could determine whether the robot is a worthwhile investment.
“For a robot, that requires them to have a trial period,” he said. “We don’t want to buy it only for use in training, it has to work in the field and be safe.
“If it is going to be used to make an initial attack on behalf of firefighters, make the environment safe for firefighters to enter the building, and it is safe and has been fully tested, then of course we will go for it.”
Updated: January 19, 2014 04:00 AM