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In London, a team of robots joins the fire brigade

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(Read caption) A fire truck speeds down the street in London. Now, a team of robots has joined the London Fire Brigade.

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When a fire breaks out in London, a few remote-controlled robot firefighters could be dispatched to quash the blaze.

A team of robots is now being used to fight fires along with the London Fire Brigade (see one of the 'firebots' here). The unique firefighting team is part of a two-year project funded by Network Rail, the Highways Agency, and Transport for London.

These remote controlled robots, once used for bomb removal in Afghanistan, are equipped with high-pressure hoses and thermal-imaging cameras, which can be used to fight city blazes. In this year alone, during a trial-period, the robots have been called upon to fight 10 fires, according to BBC News.

The robots, which have been helping the London Fire Brigade put out fires thought to have been sparked by acetylene, a highly flammable industrial gas, have "had tremendous results," Gary Gunyon, group commander for hazardous materials and environmental protection with the London Fire Brigade, told BBC News. (In London last year,there were 471 cylinder incidents, and 91 of those involved acetylene.)

The fires involving acetylene, he says, "used to take more than 24 hours to resolve, now we get them resolved in under three hours. Three years ago we were shutting down parts of London for over 24 hours every other week. Now it doesn't even make the news."

Earlier this week, the international defense and security technology company, QinetiQ, which developed the robots, hosted a demonstration featuring the robots and their firefighting capabilities. During the demo, four remote controlled robots – named Talon, Bison, Black Max, and Brokk – put out fires caused by cylinders of acetylene. Each robot has different tools to help tackle flames. Some are nimble and have the ability to climb. Others are fitted with claws or hoses or video and thermal cameras.

Since their official debut yesterday, two of the robots were already put to the test, when a fire broke out in a factory housing acetylene tanks at Membury Airfield on Thursday. Acetylene cylinders, which can undergo a chemical reaction and combust when overheated, can create a dangerous situation for firefighters. Currently, the London Fire Brigade calls upon the robots to assess fires that may involve acetylene. Once they're on the scene, the robots can detect the presence of any acetylene, take the temperature of cylinders using thermal imaging cameras, and even remove them once they've cooled.

Though the robots are mainly used to fight fires dealing with acetylene cylinders, they may be used in other areas in the future.

In a BBC article, Simon Christoforato, manager for robotic systems at QinetiQ, says the robots could be outfitted with "a number of sensors for other dangers, such as chemical spills or biological contamination," which he notes as being commercially available. "The robots could be useful anywhere there's a fireman getting into danger," he added.

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter, @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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