Purdue's firefighting robot goes where crews cannot at Illinois tire fire


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Crews fighting flames Wednesday at an Hoopeston, Ill., tire plant got some unexpected help from Purdue's fire department and its non-human friend.

A call from the Champaign, Ill., Fire Department came in for Purdue Fire Chief Kevin Ply Wednesday morning, asking for assistance fighting the fire at J&R Used Tire Service in Hoopeston.

The help they got was definitely not what they expected.

“Some of the firefighters, both volunteer and career, from the many fire departments that were there, were a little skeptical,” Ply said. “But, once we were able to deploy it inside the structure, they were able to see it in operation and the impact it was making on the fire, it was very impressive."

Ply, along with two other Purdue firefighters, took their prototype firefighting robot to help fight the fire.

“We were able to deploy it in an area that had fire involvement, to the point where we had partial building collapse,” Ply said. “It was an area we were not going to put a human firefighter in, due to the risk of injury.”

Professor in Purdue's College of Technology Eric Dietz is helping develop the robot for a Korean company. He says the use the fire department was able to get out of it was invaluable.

“This is what you dream of if you're doing research,” Dietz said. “You want to get the user to give you an operational test. That's what we had. We had some things that we see that need to get tweaked.”

Ply says they ran the robot for nearly four hours, running the battery dead. Now, there appears to be some sort of glitch in the software, causing the hose to go off without being told to.

“(Next we’ll) provide that feedback back to the researchers so, eventually, the production model will be even more sustainable,” Ply said.

“This is also an important economic development opportunity, because the Koreans didn't want us to just do research, they were also trying to figure out how they can locate a company here,” Dietz said.

Chief Ply says there are still some issues they would like to work out, including rapid battery charging and the ability to change out the battery in the field.
David DeLong / wlfi.com


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