But thanks to an innovative robot design, fire fighters may soon be relieved from this duty, putting them out of harm’s way and back into action if needed elsewhere.
This robot was not designed in a lab, at a tech company’s headquarters, nor in a technologically savvy foreign country. No, it was designed and built in a primary school classroom in Victoria, by a team of ten very talented students.
CTRL+ALT+DELETE is what the team of young inventors, four from Glendal Primary School, five from Berwick Lodge Primary School and one from Mount View Primary School, call themselves.
Their creation, the Hot Spot Spotter, was designed for the Australian National Robotics Competition, which took them all the way to Spain for the World Titles this year.
While robotics is a feature of the curriculum at Glendal Primary School, teacher Chris Gilligan says CTRL+ALT+DELETE is an extra-curricular group.
“At this high competition level there’s a discreet group of children who are selected through a fairly rigorous process ... kids who have high skill and ability to think on their feet, be creative, are able to articulate and present confidently.
Initially challenged with the task of identifying a problem and coming up with a creative solution, the young inventors and their teachers Gilligan and Traceye Rapinett, leading teacher of Lego robotics & inquiry learning at Berwick Lodge Primary School, followed a line of enquiry into bushfire recovery.
“They had to do a lot of research before the actual tournament ... the children formulated questions, we interviewed experts, and then compiled a research project,” Rapinett explains.
“We had lots of people from CFA to Department of Sustainability and Environment, various people involved in that industry came out to speak to us, or we Skyped them,” Gilligan explains.
“...they gave us an amazing amount of information about the actual stages of bushfires, and then of course we honed in on the recovery area ... and we became aware that manpower’s used to actually go out and seek these hot spots which of course, can be potentially hazardous."
The solution they came up with was a swarm of digital robots which could be deployed in a grid area, to seek out hot spots using thermal imaging.
“[They would] actually be able to send information back to base ... there was also a camera on the robot, so the image was put up to base as well, so they could determine whether it was rated as a high risk or a medium or a low risk,” Gilligan says.
“If it was determined as a high risk it was paint-balled by the robot, which of course is done by the fire fighters anyhow, so the whole idea of the hot spotter was for efficiency...”
The students have presented their idea to the CFA, the Department of Sustainability and Environment, representatives from other relevant bodies.
“Well they’re very impressed with it, very impressed,” Gilligan says.
“... they felt that it had high potential. There was a lot of stages to go through of course, but they did feel that there was nothing out there at this stage, in that area...”
Gilligan says some of the major benefits of the design are its size, and cost to manufacture.
“It’s designed to be able to go over undulating terrain, but if lost or if damaged, there are enough of them to actually then keep going and doing the task.
“The plan was it was not a big robot ... then that was not going to be a huge cost, so all those areas were addressed with regards to the design and the making and the purpose of it, and they were very impressed with the idea.”
Gilligan says the experience students have gained through the whole design process had been wonderful.
“I mean this is where the young minds of today and the young people of today are actually going to be the inventors of tomorrow.
“[This project] gives them a purpose and a reason for what they’re doing, their learning is truly in the real-world and it makes it exciting for them, and then to have affirmation from various bodies, that their ideas are possibilities, I think it is really, really wonderful.”
Rapinett says participating in the team has sparked an interest in robotics among her students, who were relatively inexperienced in the area.
“It’s taught them a lot because they’ve gained a lot of insight and expertise from the Glendal students and now they’ve become experts at our school,” she says.
“These boys, [in Term 4] will be coming back to school and what they’re going to be doing is ... they’re going to be peer coaches. They will have some younger students underneath them ... and basically coach them into a school competition we’re going to run between both schools - so Glendal Primary School, and Berwick Lodge Primary School are going to have their own little inter-school competition with the robotics.”