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Fireproof drone could aid search and rescue in burning buildings

20 January 2016

Korean research team develop fireproof, wall-climbing drone equipped with an array of sensors to detect the presence of people within a burning building.

The FAROS can endure the heat of over 1,000°C from butane gas and ethanol aerosol flames for over one minute (photo montage: KAIST)

A research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) led by Professor Hyun Myung has developed an unmanned aerial vehicle, named the Fireproof Aerial RObot System (FAROS), which detects fires in skyscrapers, searches the inside of the building, and transfers data in real time from fire scenes to the ground station.

As an extended version of Climbing Aerial RObot System (CAROS) that was created in 2014 by the research team, the FAROS can also fly and climb walls.

The FAROS, whose movements rely on a quadrotor system, can freely change its flight mode into a spider's crawling on walls, and vice versa, facilitating unimpeded navigation in the labyrinth of narrow spaces filled with debris and rubble inside the blazing building.

The drone 'estimates' its position and attitude via a 2D laser scanner, an altimeter, and an Inertia Measurement Unit sensor to navigate autonomously. With this 'localisation' result and using a thermal-imaging camera to recognize objects or people inside a building, the FAROS can also detect and find the fire-ignition point by employing dedicated image-processing technology.

Fireproof and flame-retardant, the drone's body is covered with aramid fibres to protect its electric and mechanical components from the direct effects of the flame. The aramid fibre skin also has a buffer of air beneath it, and a thermoelectric cooling system based on the Peltier effect to help maintain the air layer within a specific temperature range.

The research team demonstrated the feasibility of the localisation system and wall-climbing mechanism in a smoky indoor environment. The fireproof test showed that the drone could endure in excess of 1,000°C from butane gas and ethanol aerosol flames for over one minute.

The research team is now attempting to improve the performance of the fireproof design, particularly for the protection of the 2D laser scanner and thermal-imaging camera, which, by dint of their duties are more exposed to the flames.

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