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Japan’s first hostile environment firefighting multi-robot system now operational

06 June 2019

According to Yomiuri Shimbun, the country’s first firefighting robot system has been deployed to an area with refineries, chemical plants and storage facilities in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture. The system will battle blazes in hostile locations that are difficult for firefighters to reach.

Water Cannon Robot - Image: MHI
Water Cannon Robot - Image: MHI

Following the deployment, about 400 people attended a ceremony marking the introduction of the robot system at JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy Corp.’s Chiba refinery in Ichihara. A demonstration of the firefighting capabilities of the system took place during the ceremony.

The system comprises four robotic items: an air surveillance and monitoring robot ‘sky eye’; a ground robot ‘land eye’; a hose-deploying robot and a water cannon robot.

The unit is called ‘Scrum Force’, meaning it combines each of the abilities of these robots to take on tasks in a scrum.

The unit was developed after fires occurred at petrochemical complexes in the city in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. At that time, firefighters could not reach the fires because of the high temperatures.

To address the issue, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry oversaw the development of the firefighting robot system, spending five years and ¥1.38 billion ($13 million) on the project. It will be stored at the Yawata station, part of the Ichihara City Fire Department.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency plans to deploy the robot system to fire departments in industrial zones nationwide.

The four-unit system was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and all the constituents are controlled by a command unit. This and the individual robots have a dedicated transport vehicle that can be brought directly to the location of the fire.

The Water Cannon Robot is designed to extinguish fires where human intervention is difficult, while the Hose Extension Robot automatically lays out up to 300m of fire hose to supply water to the Water Cannon Robot. Deployment of these two robots will depend on information and intelligence provided by the two surveillance robots to the command centre.

The two fire-fighting units are built on chassis frames modified from small farm buggies that offer strong suspension combined with outstanding manoeuverability. The frames are equipped with GPS and laser sensors that together enable autonomous controllable movement and can self-drive directly to the scene of a fire.

After arrival at the scene, the Water Cannon Robot is left in position and the Hose Extension Robot moves to the water source - a fire engine, hydrant, etc. - while laying out its hose on the ground, extendable to a length of 300m. The hose is of rigid, heavy (2kg/m) construction, with a 150mm inner diameter (nominal diameter 150A). It is automatically extended and rewound in coordination with the movement of the robot and can move round corners.

The Water Cannon Robot weighs 1,600kg and comes with a water or foam discharge capacity of up to 4,000 litres per minute at a pressure of 1.0MPa. Onboard sensors include RTK-GPS, RIDAR, IMU and odometry. It is designed to operate in a radiant heat environment of up to 20kW/m2.

Going forward, MHI says it will continue to focus on developing a wide range of robot-related technologies. The company has already designed a number of robots to help with the clean-up of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant site, which features some of the highest radioactivity hotspots and most hostile operating conditions in the world.

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