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The Drones and Robots That Helped Save Notre Dame (hackaday.com)
134 points by wardn on Apr 17, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

while the Colossus looks really interesting, I think the biggest impact was the video feed. I don't have the specs, but just by quick glancing of the video, that small stream of water probably didn't help at all in this particular case. You would have to be way closer for it to be effective, or use a different pattern of water if you're trying to achieve something else (e.g. ventilation or cooling down). In any case, really interesting tech.

Source: firefighter for over 8 years, attend hundreds of structural fires, tens of 5+ alarms, few of them in historical buildings.

It looks like they were mostly using it to dump water on the pile of debris from the collapsed roof. Seems like a reasonable use case (you wouldn't want crews operating under the rest of the roof that hadn't collapsed).

Yeah, it makes sense that being able to see inside the structure would be a huge help in planning how to take on the fire.

I was wondering about the robot's water stream being used to keep things currently not burning from starting on fire. Do you think this would be used to hose down relics they were trying to protect from the rest of the blaze or is that not even considered when trying to get it under control?

that could be something, but you would have to weigh in the damage from water vs fire. watering relics could potentially damage and destroy relics as much as fire. Same with walls: you can water them to prevent them from catching fire, but that will eventually deteriorate the structural integrity, so you need to be careful.

The Colossus is "Fireproof" according to the marketing website [1]. It appears to contain Lithium batteries, so how hot do you think it can get before it stops working?

1. https://www.shark-robotics.com/en/robot/colossus/

If they're using the water that's flowing through that hose to cool it, it could be fine with a very high external temperature. I think I would be more concerned about the cameras than the batteries, they're harder to cool.

I would be extremely surprised if it didn't cool itself with the water hookup

Apparently, a significant difference between American and French firefighters is that the latter prefer to fight the fire from the inside (e.g.: avoid the heat and steam to accumulate inside).

Apart from the video aspect, wouldn't the Colossus' water stream help them achieve that: creating a path for them to intervene and potentially escape ?

I was just reading in Le Monde yesterday that this approach is used on historical buildings as working inward would trap the fire and essentially create a localized furnace that would damage the artifacts inside.

Also, the furnace could compromise the stone structure. So the focus was to keep the wall from getting too hot, first from the inside.

The way it was explained in Lemonde, it's that french firefihters don't always do that. They did it to preserve the interior, but that might not be their every day strategy.

Where have you seen that difference apparent? That's not the case, in my experience.

How many would we need to be more effective? Perhaps a small swarm could be used?

The yearly forest fires in California seem to be difficult to control. A robotic army of firefighters might help?

Forest fires are part of the natural life of forests, trying to stop them is counter productive, the more you delay them the more fuel there is to burn (accumulation of fuel: dead plants, dead trees, &c.)

Not everything has to be fixed by technology and controlled by humans.


Unfortunately, it's not that simple. For example, decades of fire suppression created unnatural forests, with more deadfall and closer, smaller trees, that burn more intensely than natural ones. Thanks to global warming, bark beetles have killed vast swathes of forest in the western United States. And people live near those forests, and expect the fire department to protect their houses.

It can't all be fixed and controlled, but "letting nature take its course" would have disastrous consequences at this point.

Then why do we send in firefighters?

I didn't say we should stop the forest fires, I said we want to control them. Almost 100 people died in California last year and there was $3.5 billion in damage:


Yes we do try to control them, but that's a last resort, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EodxubsO8EI

Same problem with Texas and floods, Florida and hurricanes, &c. building in risk zones is inherently dangerous. The people who died knew the risks.

I've noticed that people have been giving a lot of credit to the fire fighters. It's clear they tried their best and risked their lives to remove the artifacts that they could. But it's also clear that everything that could burn did burn:


The entire roof is in ashes and there doesn't appear to be anything combustible left.

You missed the part about the trusses in the bell tower that didn't burn. If they burnt and the bells fell (13 tons for the biggest one!), then the whole building would have collapsed.

They had guys in the tower, protecting that.

The bell towers did start burning, and their structure is wood to a large degree. Just the bells dropping could have destroyed all horizontal structures and threatened the towers’ stability.

They also literally grabbed and ran out with a lot of rather delicate cultural artifacts.

Given the hand they were dealt[1], I think they did a remarkable job.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/world/europe/why-notre-da...

The organ casework looks quite combustible to me: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10214621195466674&se...

Here are some of my thoughts (from another discussion) on the efforts of the firefighters:


> They instead borrowed two commercially available models which were in service with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Culture. [...] But DJI actually has a system in place where operators can request these limitations be lifted temporarily, which allowed the manufacturer to work quickly with the French authorities

Given that both drones were owned by branches of the French government, it's possible that they already had their geofencing permanently disabled, at least within France.

My awareness comes from a tragic event, but I still must say that the Colossus is pretty cool. I wonder if the birdlike Boston Dynamics robot could be adapted for indoor firefighting in confined spaces. (Perhaps with a flippable/rotatable 4 wheeled gimbal like the Dean Kamen iBot has, which would enable stair climbing.)


Flying drones close to a fire seems like a counter productive idea, flight is achieved by pushing lots of air around, pushing lots of air around increases the amount of oxygen available to the fire.

Edit: Oops - not flying - so this comment makes no sense. I thought you meant some of the bird-like drones we've seen.

The bird-like Boston Dynamics bots aren't flying drones, they are more like ostriches in shape, and they balance on two wheels on legs with a neck-like arm for manipulating things

You're right... oops. Sorry.

That logic seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

Following that logic, the best way to fight a fire is to get a lot of people in the building to breathe in all the oxygen and turn it into carbon dioxide ;-)

Humans aren't very good O2->CO2 convertors, and people object to you killing them in the process of fighting fires, so it's not "the best way" but I suppose it is a "way".

A more extreme version, using explosives to put out oil well fires, is common.

But we're really discussing the inverse prospect, adding oxygen to make a fire hotter. This is even more common. From blowing on camp fires, to bellows in a forge, to back yard foundries built with a hair dryer acting as a fan.

I'm not sure the Boston bird can take any significant amount of heat or water, to say nothing of its ability to navigate a floor strewn with (burning) debris.

I'm not sure the Boston bird can take any significant amount of heat or water

If you take an architecture developed for warehouse running, you'd naturally have to adapt it for fire fighting. If you're not assuming that this sort of re-engineering needs to be done for a shirtsleeves R&D device being applied to the demanding context of fire fighting, then please think 1 or 2 more steps ahead when engineering.

In short: I'm trying to talk about some specific modifications to an existing example and its effect on maneuvering, as a shorthand to discuss a general architecture, not all of the contextual specifics. I would be open to discussing how the contextual specifics would be applied, but to go directly to, "won't work -- specifics!..." is just throwing up roadblocks to be a pedant.

to say nothing of its ability to navigate a floor strewn with (burning) debris

Which is why I mentioned the bogey and extra wheels as in the iBot.

Chinese technology. Designed and built in China.

The drones you mean? The Colossus by Shark Robotics is designed and made in France.

Impressive thing. 8h autonomy, can go up stairs.

It’s great that China has achieved global competitiveness in innovation. Maglevs, electric vehicles, space exploration, AI, etc will improve more rapidly with more competition.

Now we need for other “offline“ countries to join to increase global innovation.

There is such a thing as <name_of_country> technology. Technology is technology and drones are certainly not a 0 to 1 Chinese technology. Great Chinese product nonetheless.

Yes, DJI is coming out of China


> Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents.


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