Defense contractor Howe and Howe Technologies originally built the RS1 robotics platform to neutralize IEDs in war zones. Now, the modular system has been re-imagined as a remote-operated firefighting robot called the Thermite, an R/C mini tank capable of pumping out 500 gallons of water per minute, winching 1,300 pounds and climbing 18-inch vertical steps. All with its operator standing out of harm’s way up to a half-mile from the fire.
“It is designed as a firefighter’s tool, not a firefighter replacement,” clarifies Business Manager Ronald Lemons. “This is a tool to get fire suppression where a chief deems too dangerous to send a person or requires an additional standoff.”
Indeed, the Thermite wasn’t intended to be autonomous. Instead, it’s more like a really long “smart hose.” The Thermite can feed its operator HD video and thermal scans of a fire, but it’s ultimately up to the firefighter at the controls to predict the fire’s movement, to properly control its spread and react to potential explosions. Explosions, of course, are nothing new to the durable, IED-eating RS1.
But to transform the RS1 into the firefighting Thermite, Howe and Howe first had to conquer the issue of heat. High temperatures are the bane of electronics, yet the Thermite would need to do its job in conditions hot enough to melt just about anything.
So as the Thermite pumps water at a fire, it first passes some of it through its own internal veins as liquid coolant. It can even transform its roll cage into a giant sprinkler system, using cooling fans to suck in its own shower of mist if heat reaches critical levels.
But what’s perhaps most impressive about the Thermite is its water capacity. As Dvice points out, a typical fire truck can pump about 1,500 gallons per minute at a fire. The Thermite manages 500 gallons per minute on its own accord, and with two firefighters jacking into a variety of hose configurations, it can reach a maximum output of 1,000 to 1,500 gallons a minute–essentially serving as a fire truck that can park itself right inside the burning building.
Assuming it lives up to the manufacturer’s promises, the Thermite is a relative steal for fire departments at $70,000. And in any case, it’s encouraging to enter an era when military robots are being used to put out fires, rather than start them.