Intelligent Mobile Robots for Fire Fighting and Disaster Mitigation

  • Principal Investigator: Dr. Muhammad Bilal Kadri (PAF-KIET)
  • Co-Principal Investigator: Dr. Tariq Mairaj Rasool Khan (NUST-PNEC)


The aim of the project is to design and fabricate Intelligent Mobile Robots (IMRs) which are capable of fire fighting and disaster mitigation. The final product will be a small team of intelligent mobile robots with all the state of the art technologies embedded onto a single board. The board will be mounted on the mobile robots that will enable the robots to take intelligent decisions on the run and create an ad-hoc network at the disaster location.


The scope of the project is to develop a group of intelligent cooperative fire fighting and disaster mitigation mobile robots which can perform critical operations in adverse circumstances and hazardous environments. Mobile robots will be developed that can be included as a work force in the fire fighting department. The IMRs will be built in-house and will also be available for local industries/hospitals/offices. The intelligent mobile robots will be able to execute a mission (e.g. object detection in a complex terrain, surveying, trajectory following etc) by incorporating intelligent techniques and robust control algorithms. The mobile robots will be equipped with all the modern sensing and communication devices with onboard computational capabilities.

Executive Summary

The past records indicate a high frequency of disasters of multiple nature and magnitudes as experienced by Pakistani nation. These disasters include industrial fires, terrorism, floods and earthquakes. This document is prepared to propose the development of intelligent mobile robots to mitigate such disasters.

The industrial sector of Pakistan is huge and consist of myriad industrial units ranging from cement manufacturing, dying units, steel, glass, paints and many others in which heavy machinery is utilized. Due to the ad-hoc nature of the industrial setup and absence of stringent rules and regulations governing the installation and commissioning of boilers, heaters and many other electro-mechanical equipments, accidents are frequent. In most of the cases the accidents no matter what the cause leads to fire. The fire fighting department, in most Pakistani cities is unable to provide immediate support for extinguishing the fire. Quick and effective rescue operation cannot be guaranteed due to many unavoidable reasons.

Fire fighting is a dangerous job which in certain situations may lead to severe casualties of the work force involved. In case of disastrous situation where the fire fighters cannot move into the building without endangering their lives, mobile robots equipped with fire fighting equipments can be sent into the premises. The intelligent mobile robots (IMRS) can be equipped with various fire fighting equipment as well as debris removal gear.

IMRs would be able to navigate within the building with the help of on board cameras and intelligence built into them. The mobile robots can transmit images from the source of fire/hazard which can be utilized for better decision making in disaster management as well as post disaster analysis for determining the cause(s) of disaster. Pakistan is geographically situated on Earth’s fault lines. The country has a history of several earthquakes. The earthquakes inflicted severe loss of infrastructure as well as precious human lives. Destruction caused by earthquakes seriously impedes the immediate rescue efforts. Provision of immediate rescue efforts could only guarantee life safety to the effected.

Terrorism threat in Pakistan is also very high. Loss of human life and property are obvious consequences of terrorism. Pakistan’s largest coal reserves are found in Sindh with approximately 184.623 billion tones. There are many coal mines spread in Lakhra, Sonda Thatta, Jherruck and Thar areas. In case of a coal mine disaster the rescue workers cannot penetrate deep in to the mines and perform a successful operation. There is a high probability that the rescuers can get poisoned in underground coal mines which is full of toxic gases. The rescue efforts are seriously hampered due to the presence of poisonous gases such as CO and CH4. Intelligent mobile robots (IMRs) can perform in such hazardous environment and can help in reducing the casualties.

Intelligent Mobile Robots (IMRs) are extensively used nowadays in many applications and they are extremely helpful. They can be effectively utilized in life threatening missions as well as in harsh weathers for surveillance investigation, tracking, rescue operation and map generation. Use of sensor network based technologies can enhance the level of preparedness and the ability to handle consequences of the disaster. Applications which have human risks such as handling of nuclear waste, identification of location of explosives, etc., show the potential of use of mobile robots functioning as a group. IMR’s with all of the state of the art technologies built into it are very costly. Small scale IMRs are available in the market but all of them have manual control which is difficult to manage and even the experienced personnel cannot guarantee a successful mission.

Formation movement i.e. multiple IMRs dedicated for a mission, which is required in many operations is quite challenging for human operators. Tracking or locating a specific target with built in intelligence is also not available in the ordinary IMRs available in the market. Programmable IMR’s that can be customized for certain missions are not available and those which are available have very limited capabilities.

Intelligent mobile robots having the following features:

  • Detection and extinguishing the fire
  • Intelligent behavior such as object detection, target tracking, collision avoidance
  • Formation movement of a group of robots
  • Autonomous and manual control

Motivation and need

Pakistan is prone to terrorist activities, some areas in Pakistan are more prone to floods while some other areas are prone to earthquakes. Loss of human life and property are obvious consequences of such disasters. Pakistan has a huge history of earthquakes. One of the major reasons is the earth fault line passing through Pakistan.

However, the level of preparedness is the key element that can limit the extent of damage. Use of sensor network based technologies can enhance the level of preparedness and the ability to handle consequences of the disaster. This higher level of preparedness can provide a better control over the loss. A team of mobile robots can quickly set up a network of mobile sensors and actuators for rapid action.

Applications which have human risks such as handling of nuclear waste, identification of location of explosives, etc., show the potential of use of mobile robots functioning as a group. Mobile robots have been used in search and rescue operation of World Trade centre terrorist attack and Hanshin-Awaji earthquake. In such situations mobile robots can enter voids too small or deep for a person, and can begin surveying larger voids that people are not permitted to enter until a fire has been put out or the structure has been reinforced. Robots can carry cameras, thermal imagers, hazardous material detectors, and medical payloads into the interior of a rubble pile and set up communication link with human operator using the ad-hoc network set-up by these robots. Each robot equipped with accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetic compass as sensor devices, can plan its navigational path with reference to each other and can get the sensor network dynamically relocated. Team of mobile robots equipped with appropriate sensors and distributed and cooperative planning algorithms can also autonomously generate maps for oil spill or radiation leaks.

In case of a nuclear disaster the rescue workers are vulnerable to the toxic radiations. It is very important to identify the location and cause of the disaster. The IMRs can move into these places and can help in transferring important information to the base station. The IMRs can move into hazardous areas and can identify the areas which are severely affected by the nuclear radiation. Important information regarding the victims and the source of radiation can be identified. The data gathered by the IMRs can be used later on for a full scale investigation and design of fault tolerant mechanism.

When an area is struck by an earthquake it is utmost important to determine those areas which need immediate relief operations. Since the debris removal resources are limited and the time required to remove the complete rubble could be quite long. It is extremely difficult to determine the total number and locations of those victims who are buried deep in the debris. The IMRs can be an important device which can perform this operation very efficiently. The IMR equipped with IR sensors and cameras can go deep into holes and in areas which cannot be explored by humans. The victims can also communicate with the base station with the help of on-board microphone and speakers.

As reported by the Karachi Fire Brigade Department, Fire risks ranging from type A to type F are present due to the building construction, electrical wiring in most of the industries. There are only twenty (20) fire fighting stations in Karachi. Karachi being a metropolitan city with an overwhelming population of 21 million has a shortfall of 80% fire fighting units. The shortfall in mobile fire units is 97%. If the fire breaks out in a congested area than fire can spread to a wider area due to the time required by the fire snorkel to reach the emergency point. The operational fire fighting personal fulfills only 17% of the requirement. There is an enormous requirement for low cost fire fighting machines which can replace humans.