FIGHT FIRES WITH
Fires have a way of happening in places that aren’t necessarily easy
to reach. Whether the source of the
fire is somewhere deep within a
building and/or up more than a floor
or two, firefighters have few good
options for tackling them. They can
either blast water into windows
(which doesn’t always work that
well), or they can try and get into the
building which can be super
At the International Conference
on Robotics and Automation held recently, researchers from Tohoku University and the National Institute
of Technology, Hachinohe College in Japan presented a new kind of snake-like robot with the body of a
fire hose. Like other snake robots, this one has the potential to be able to wiggle its way into windows or
other gaps in a structure, with the benefit of carrying and directing water as it goes.
What’s so cool about this particular design, however, is how it powers itself: By firing high pressure
jets of water downwards like rocket engines, it can lift itself off of the ground and fly.
There are sets of steerable nozzle modules distributed along the length of the hose. These modules
siphon water out of the high pressure stream inside of the hose and spray it downwards. As the water
exits downwards at high velocity, it pushes the hose upwards. With enough of these modules squirting out
high pressure water, the entire hose can be lifted into the air. Just like a rocket, it’s not dependent on
ground proximity to work, so as long as you keep on giving it more hose and water at a high enough
pressure, it’ll go as high as you want.
Since the nozzles are steerable, each module can direct itself independently, letting the hose weave
itself through small gaps deep into a structure in order to find the source of a fire. The “head” module
comes with a few extra degrees of freedom to allow the water stream to be directed more precisely.
While the head nozzle is fighting the source of the fire, the hose keeps itself airborne so that it’s
drenching everything that it’s passing over, while also keeping itself cool.
The two meter long prototype is intended to be a single segment in a robot that can be extended to
an arbitrary length by just adding more segments. So far, it’s worked reasonably well as prototypes go, but
at this point, it’s really more of a proof of concept in hardware than anything else. There’s still a lot to do
before a system like this could
be used in real world
The researchers readily
admit that their current
control algorithms are “not
sophisticated,” and that they’ll
need to put some work into
making it more stable, more
controllable, and able to handle
All images courtesy of Tohoku University/National
Institute of Technology.
26 SERVO 07/08.2018