With a wall of red-orange flames rapidly advancing, and Notre Dame’s vast chambers reaching oven-like temperatures, the commander of the Paris Fire Brigade made a painful choice Monday evening.
He told his firefighters to retreat. “Losing a beloved medieval relic would be devastating, of course, but losing human lives in a hopeless effort to save the would be even worse.”
However, Jean-Claude Gallet, the commander, had a backup plan: , a 1, with the ability to venture into danger zones where conditions would quickly kill a person.
Using a motorized water cannon capable of firing more than 660 gallons per minute, took aim at the stone walls of the ancient cathedral and began spraying. In an interview with the Times of London, Gallet credited the with lowering temperatures inside the glass-filled nave and saving the lives of its human counterparts as an even greater disaster loomed.
“Time was against us, the wind was against us and we had to get the upper hand,” Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for the fire brigade, told the paper. “The priority we set was to save the two belfries. Imagine if the timber of the belfries had been weakened and the bells had collapsed. That was really our fear. In the beginning, it was not impossible to imagine that the cathedral structure could collapse.”
The machine’s heroic role in defense of Notre Dame may be remembered as the beginning of a new era of firefighting. Over the last decade or so, experts say, various countries and organizations have begun developing that fight fires and gather information, potentially offering a sophisticated new tool in a fire department’s arsenal. The keep people out of harm’s way and provide an alternative to the age-old practice of hauling a heavy, unwieldy fire hose into a cluttered .
is far from the only firefighter available for action.
In China, has emerged of firefighting taking part in drills alongside human firefighters. Howe and Howe Technologies — a company that specializes in creating vehicles and — has developed several firefighting that are designed to operate in industrial environments using foam or water.
Lockheed Martin’s Fire Ox, a robotic firetruck that can be controlled using a “game style controller,” was designed to fight wildfires or structure fires, Myron Mills, who helped develop the vehicle, told Bloomberg News in 2014. The U.S. Navy has also begun experimenting with a 5-foot 10-inch to fight fires. The Terminator-like was designed to throw propelled extinguishing agent (PEAT) grenades and handle a fire hose, according to report.
The is deployed “with the Paris Firefighter Brigade and with many other French or foreign Regional Services of Fires & Rescues,” according to Shark Robotics, the French company that created the . The robotics company’s website doesn’t reveal the robot’s price tag, and the company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Shark Robotics says the — which is 2.5 feet wide and 5.25 feet long — can carry 1,200 pounds and be operated from almost 1,000 feet away. Controlled using a joystick, the is waterproof and fireproof and can even withstand thermal radiation, according to the company. It can crawl up the stairs.
The machine’s lithium-ion batteries can last for up to eight hours, and the can be equipped with cameras, and a smoke-extracting fan.
Brian Lattimer, the vice president of research and development at the and consulting firm Jensen Hughes, said operating in dangerous environments is only part of the appeal of firefighting . In the near future, he said, will be equipped with that allow them to see through heavy smoke and steam, locating obstacles and identifying “hot spots” that can be targeted with water.
Right now, he said, one of the downsides to is they operate best in open environments — like a warehouse or a spacious cathedral. Over time, he said, the will be equipped with increasingly sophisticated that will allow them to operate with more autonomy, presumably as the become more agile.
“The goal will be for firefighters to be in the loop with these robots to assist and evaluate the hazards so they can plan an effective response,” Lattimer said. “Eventually, we’ll have collaborative teams of — in the air and on the ground — that will closely with people and reduce the risk to human life.
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