The Colossus firefighting robot
17 Apr 2019

See video of the firefighting robots that helped extinguish the Notre Dame fire

Firefighting robots are able to go in to an active fire scene where it is too dangerous for firefighters to work, and some can be controlled from a distance of over 300 meters (1000 feet).

The fire in Notre-Dame did not leave many hearts unmoved when the 856-year-old cathedral caught on fire during Monday night. Partly thanks to fire firefighting robots, employed by the Paris Firefighter Brigade, the cathedral could at least be partly saved from complete destruction.

At first, the most important task for the robots was working around the soon-to-collapsing spire, as it was too risky for the Paris firefighters to approach the cathedral at all at that time. 

These machines helped guide the firefighters in their battle with the inferno, and stood in when the risk to human life was too great. At the end of the day, it was man and not machine that triumphed over nature’s fury; but without the help of modern technology the damage could have been far greater.


Eyes in the sky

As reported by the French media, emergency response teams used at least two UAVs to perform reconnaissance over the burning cathedral. With imagery provided by these platforms, firefighters were able to see the intensity and movement of the fire in real-time. These UAVs were not only faster and cheaper than sending in helicopters, but their operators were able to get much closer to the fire as they were not as susceptible to the heat and smoke which would have kept manned aircraft at a respectable distance.

In general the operation of UAVs is strictly prohibited in Paris, and that geofencing functions built into DJI’s products would have normally prevented them from flying over Notre Dame. 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 to get the UAVs airborne given the severity of the situation.


Mavic Pro


The Paris Fire Brigade didn’t actually have UAVs of their own which could be used in this situation. They instead borrowed two commercially available models which were in service with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Culture. Both of these quadcopters, a Mavic Pro and Matrice M210, are products of the Chinese company DJI. A manufacture that’s nearly synonymous with “prosumer” aerial photography platforms, they also produce the extremely popular Phantom series of quadcopters.

The Mavic Pro is a small semi-autonomous quadcopter that DJI advertises as  being ideal for capturing high quality video at the spur of the moment thanks to a folding design which makes it much easier to transport than more traditional quadcopters. With a flight time of nearly a half-hour, a 4K camera stabilized with a three axis mechanical gimbal, and the ability to automatically track and orbit objects selected by the operator, it proved to be an ideal way of monitoring the fire from above.


Matrice 210


Compared to the Mavic, the Matrice M210 is part of DJI’s professional line of quadcopters. Larger and more powerful, this UAV is designed to carry various payload packages such as spotlights, thermal cameras, and optical zoom cameras. There are conflicting reports as to whether or not the M210 used by the Paris Fire Brigade had the thermal camera option installed, but in any event, it would have at least given them another source of high resolution video.

To actually enter Notre Dame and try to battle the fire from within, the Paris Fire Brigade utilized the Colossus. This 500 kilogram tracked platform developed by Shark Robotics is essentially impervious to fire and water, and when combined with a motorized water cannon, makes a potent firefighting robot.

The Colossus was especially useful during the Notre Dame fire because it was able to remain inside the structure while the roof was engulfed in flames. With flaming debris falling from above, and the ultimate collapse of the cathedral’s iconic lead-and-wood spire, the interior was a particularly dangerous area for human firefighters to operate in. Colossus was able to provide a continuous deluge of water in the church’s nave even as the structure literally fell apart around the robot.  The work of the robot is being credited for helping to save many of the stained glass artwork. In addition, it gave firefighters another live video feed so they could determine when it was safe enough to send in additional crews.


Cover Photo: (Above) The Collossus, by Shark Robotics


TecDron TC800


Photo from inside Notre Dame after the fire:

Another robot, the TecDron TC800  is also hailed as a mechanical hero used to aid in fire suppression and data gathering during the Notre Dame fire. In video images on French television a small robot, kind of like Pixar´s "Wall-E", could be seen approaching the altar in the burnout cathedral, where it is too risky for humans to go in due to the imminent risk of structural collapse.    


Colossus: Technical Specifications:

Length: 1.6 meters (5,5 feet)

Width: 78 cm (3 feet)

Weight: 500 kg (900 pounds) 

Maximum load: 550 kg

Radio Control Range: About 300 meters (1000 feet)


Collosus drawing