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Our Prototypes column introduces new vehicle concepts and presents visuals from designers who illustrate the ideas. Some of them will be extensions of existing concepts, others will be new, some will be production ready, and others really far-fetched.

The concept

The Subfire is nimble mobile robot designed to patrol national parks and rapidly extinguish small fires by using sound waves. The Subfire could also be used to conduct safety patrols day and night, measure levels of air quality, find missing people on outback trails, and keep an eye out for dangerous wild animals.

Subfire Charles Bombardier Charles Bombardier

Subfire Charles Bombardier Charles Bombardier

The background

I recently published a small robotic concept called the Seekloc with the collaboration of Olivier Peraldi and Abhishek Roy. At the same time, I read an article in Popular Science about a team of students (Viet Tran and Seth Robertson) who are working on a fire extinguisher that uses sound waves to put out small fires. Adding those two things together gave birth to the Subfire concept.

How it works

The robot's first job would be to patrol national parks and make sure there are no unattended fires. If it detects one with its thermal imaging cameras and infrared sensors, it would be able to report it, call for help, and put out small fires using sound waves. (See video)

There's already a series of robotic platforms out there that use parallel wheels to travel in an upright position. A navigational system would be added so each unit could find its way around a national park and even step out of trails and venture into the woods if necessary.

The robots would roam the park daily, analyse and quantify the air, and transmit their findings to the park rangers and also campers on site. It could also use an electronic nose like cloud sense, a chemical sensing platform developed by Sensing Dynamics in Montreal, to detect brush fires or a wide variety of other scents. Plus, it could sense specific animals like bears with its electronic nose.

The Subfires, working as a group, with acoustic microphones could detect missing persons and pinpoint them precisely. For instance it could 'call out' missing persons and use a triangulation method to localise them (It could also detect cellphone signals).

Each Subfire would have a specific name, so directives could be given to them using Fluent.AI, a contextual speech-to-action software. would learn the user's commands—not the other way around—through high-dimensional acoustic matching. Specific tasks could thus be given to each of them if necessary, like 'wait here', 'check this trail', 'get back to base camp', etc.)

What it's used for

The Subfire would be used first and foremost by national park personnel to complete the above mentioned task. However, the data collected by the Subfires in various parks across the country could also be analysed by researchers and used in their studies. The live video feed of wildlife could also be used in TV documentaries and shared online by campers.

Finally the Subfires could act as a series of repeating stations for a mobile WiMax or a cell/mesh network. This functionality would come in handy during periods of emergency making it possible to reach help with a Smartphone or the robots' communication devices.

The designer

The images of the Subfire concept were created by Abhishek Roy. Roy is the founder of Lunatic Koncepts, a start-up design lab based in India. His team also created the renderings for the Xoupir commuter bus and the Iruka outboard engine.

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