A search robot capable of going into concealed areas that firefighters and rescue teams cannot enter was presented to the media in Durban this week.
We are very happy with what we have achieved so far and we want to improve it so that it can give far better results,” KwaZulu-Natal University mechanical engineering lecturer Riaan Stopforth told reporters about the prototype.
The SA Press Association reports the robot – described by the eThekwini Municipality’s fire department as “impressive” – weighs 56kg and will be able to transmit video information before firefighters start their rescue operations.
“We decided to design this robot because of rescuer lives lost during rescue operations,” Stopforth added.
SAPA and SABC television news reported development began three years ago. “It can travel over very rough ground using wheels that move inside metal belts, like those on a tank,” SAPA reported.
Stopforth said the design could help save time and lives, as many hours were lost when rescuers could not enter a building due to unsafe conditions.
“More than 300 firefighters died at the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks in 2001. Rescuers often enter areas that have unstable structures not knowing that there are no people to rescue.”
Sixty-five of the more than 300 firefighters at the World Trade Center died because they searched in confined spaces that flooded.
Stopforth said the research team was trying to make sure the robot was able to operate near fires.
“Problems identified at the World Trade Center were that the robots’ traction systems malfunctioned, and some were either large or not easily manoeuvrable.”
It could also be used during search and rescue operations in mines.
Lenny Naidoo of the eThekwini Municipality’s fire department said the robot was impressive, adding: “At last we have people who are trying to make our work less dangerous.”