Researchers develop autonomous drone to help fire-fighting inside ships

The micro-flyer can operate in confined spaces and rapidly accumulate situational information


Researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Robotics Institute and Sensible Machines have developed a new small quadrotor designed for fire-fighting inside navy ships.

During a demonstration on a decommissioned US Navy vessel, the micro-flyer autonomously flew through dark, smoke-filled compartments to detect fires and trace victims.

The drone has been built for deployment by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) as part of the damage control technologies for the 21st century (DC-21) project.

Using the RGB-D camera, or depth camera as a primary sensor to create a map of fire areas, the micro-flyer can operate in confined spaces and rapidly accumulate situational information.

ONR DC-21 programme manager Thomas McKenna said: "With the micro-flyer, we wanted to show that it could autonomously navigate through the narrow hallways and doors, even in dense fire smoke, and locate fires.

"It succeeded at all those tasks."

Accumulated information is transmitted to the ONR's prototype humanoid robot Shipboard Autonomous Fire-fighting Robot, which then collaborates with humans to fight fires and undertake evacuation procedures.

"The micro-flyer can operate in confined spaces and rapidly accumulate situational information."

CMU Robotics systems scientist Sebastian Scherer said: "Flying autonomously through narrow doorways in darkness and smoke poses a number of technical challenges for these small drones.

"But this capability, known as fast lightweight autonomy, will have numerous applications beyond shipboard fires, such as investigation of building fires and inspection of hazardous chemical tanks and power plant cooling towers."

The ONR's project is supported by a small business innovation research grant to Sensible Machines, with Robotics Institute acting as the subcontractor.

Full article here naval fire fighting drone

Views: 919

Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on February 7, 2015 at 5:13pm

I served in the US Navy over 40 years ago and it would have been really nice to have a drone of this capability for shipboard firefighting.



Comment by Charles Blouin on February 7, 2015 at 5:44pm

The concept is great, but why not start with ground robots? A ground robot would be an excellent proof of concept, without all the added complexity of flying.

Comment by Gary McCray on February 7, 2015 at 6:47pm

Great Use Tom and CM is definitely the place that can do it.

Especially hard in ships because their all steel hulls, bulkheads and walls, make any sort of real time radio communication virtually impossible.

Definitely need fully autonomous operation and CM excels at that.

Comment by Nathaniel Caner on February 8, 2015 at 6:54am

One major difference I can think of between the test scenario and the real world would be the fact that the test ship wasn't underway in a pitching ocean. Any flying vehicle is going to need to continuously adjust its position relative to pitching and rolling decks and walls. It's a worthwhile project, but still faces many difficult challenges before it will be successful in the real world.

I could see how this would have been very useful for firefighters aboard the USS Miami in May of 2012 during an overhaul at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Fires aboard a Submarine are particularly dangerous for firefighters.


Nathaniel ~KD2DEY

Comment by bigkahuna on February 8, 2015 at 4:00pm

Two thumbs up for a novel approach to a real problem, but like others here I have concerns on how well it might work given a real world scenario.  I've been involved in fighting two shipboard fires.  Both had zero visibility in just a few minutes after ignition.  Some way of investigating the location and extent of the fire without endangering personnel sure would have been handy.

Comment by Craig Elder on February 8, 2015 at 9:20pm
Comment by Bertrand Duchiron on February 8, 2015 at 9:28pm

I have doubt about he real use this system :

 - Visibility will be near zero even with thermal camera

 - The heat will be really high (not good for the battery),

 - The hot and turbulent air will make the drone really hard to maintain in flgiht ,

 - the crew fighting the fire don't need to have a drone flying near them (an another danger for them) and this presence can restrict the use of water hose when needed.

Comment by John Githens on February 14, 2015 at 9:28am

Concerns about performance and effectiveness aside for a moment, there are many Confined Space situations where traveling robots could be very useful, especially hybrid vehicles.


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