The U.S. military wants its smart fire fighters to be able to detect and defeat small, but deadly, fires before they spread and spread fast enough to cause widespread damage, according to a senior military official familiar with the matter.
The proposal to develop an automated firefighting system comes after the Pentagon announced in October that it had selected one of the most advanced autonomous robots ever built, a $3.4 billion robotic arm that could one day take out wildfires.
U.S.-made robots can detect fires in minutes, even if the area is a mile and a half wide, the official said.
“That’s not an insurmountable problem,” the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the program publicly, said of the challenge.
“We need to get that to where it’s safe for humans to deploy the robot.”
The Pentagon is looking to buy a large number of autonomous robots, with a goal of deploying them to the battlefield within 20 years, according the official.
If approved by the Pentagon, the technology would be developed at the National Robotics Engineering Center, which is funded by the Defense Department and the Defense Innovation Board.
The center, located in Arlington, Va., is the home of the Army Research Office, which has developed a number of advanced robotic systems.
According to the official’s account, the agency would develop a new, autonomous system to fight fires in the wake of the massive wildfires that engulfed much of Northern California last winter.
A fire in the San Francisco Bay area caused by the spread of black carbon dust in November left over 40,000 firefighters fighting a blaze that destroyed a major freeway and damaged thousands of homes.
The blaze, dubbed “Black Thursday,” forced the evacuation of more than 5 million people in California and Washington state.
Officials said the agency had developed an automated system to defeat fires and to detect large fires in remote areas, with the goal of being deployed to fight other fires in a decade or so.
Firefighting robots have proven to be a key part of military plans since the beginning of the Cold War, and the military is increasingly looking to use them for more missions.
In January, for instance, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution calling on the U of A to develop a robot that could detect the spread and attack of small, highly destructive fires.
On Monday, the Pentagon also announced plans to develop robots to fight wildfires in Afghanistan.
Follow Stories Like This Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
Sign up for the Monitor’s free daily newsletter to get a roundup of the day’s most important news delivered to you every weekday.