Oct. 4, 2012 at 1:18 PM ET
When the next chemical plant explodes in a ball of flames, don’t be surprised if firefighters send in a mini robotic tank to douse the inferno with fire-retardant foam.
The Thermite tank from Maine-based Howe and Howe Technologies is the latest entry of robotics to danger zones where we humans would prefer not to work — from shutting down tsunami-crippled nuclear reactors to rescuing trapped miners.
The company builds modular robotic systems, beginning with a base platform that can traverse rough terrain and climb stairs to get itself into position. Thermite is attached to the base and comes equipped with a multidirectional nozzle that can deliver 600 gallons of firefighting fluid a minute.
The system is billed as the “world’s first firefighting robot.” For better or worse, this robot is remotely controlled by a human within a quarter mile from the burning action. In other words, it won’t fight fires autonomously. The video below shows it in action.
Thermite retails for $96,000. The company also sells a fire truck called the Bulldog, which houses the pumping system for Thermite. A Bulldog, Thermite and maybe one other robot such as the Eagle Eye, a robotic arm attached to the base state, would run about $400,000, Wired’s Danger Room estimates.
That’s half the price of a new fire truck. With pricing like that, firefighters of the near future really could be getting help from robots, a nice sign that humans and robots really can get along.