Siddharth Thakur with his invention “FireBot” (Courtesy of Siddharth Thakur)
Inspiration for Firebot came to Siddharth Thakur four years ago, when the inventor was 13. “I was looking for technology to fight forest fires when I heard about the death of a local firefighter in a structure fire on the news,” Thakur said. “And it got me thinking, why couldn’t I use my technical skills to develop a solution to a problem in my local community, rather than trying to solve a problem in many states?” “
FireBot, the search and rescue robot that Thakur quickly began to develop, won the People’s Choice Award in 2021 College inventors competition October 13. It’s a 20-pound steel robot that firefighters can guide remotely through burning buildings using a joystick. FireBot clears obstacles and returns live video and thermal data to allow firefighters to see conditions inside structures without risking their lives. It also has a two-way speaker system that can help victims get to safety.
Most importantly, FireBot will not burn. “The main reason FireBot is new is its thermal insulation system,” Thakur said. “There are several layers of high temperature resistant materials that protect the electronics inside … The temperatures on the floor inside a structural fire rarely exceed 300 degrees Fahrenheit as the heat rises. at these temperatures, FireBot can last well over 40 minutes, which is more than four times as long as a firefighter with all of his protective gear. “
Thakur had lengthy conversations with his hometown fire chief in Houston before embarking on the project. He was shocked to learn that firefighters don’t often use robotic technology. “They rely on basic techniques to get into fire and search for human life,” he said, “and they get trapped, they run out of air, they get lost, then they die. ” Over the past decade, 33 firefighters have lost their lives in building fires nationwide; more than 10,000 were injured in 2019 alone.
Thakur worked on three versions of FireBot during his high school years with help from Roland Champs, the head of the manufacturing laboratory at Houston Community College. Fields opened the doors of his lab to the young inventor, brainstormed with him, and was his advisor in the competition. Now that Thakur has moved to Austin and started an electrical engineering degree at UT, he’s redesigning FireBot again. He also hopes to recruit additional members for the team and secure funds.
Winning the Collegiate Inventors Competition earned Thakur $ 2,000 and made him eligible for patent aid from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, one of the sponsors of the competition. “Currently we have a provisional patent and we hope to file a few more,” Thakur said. “I’m very grateful because the USPTO gave us a patent accelerator. I guess it usually takes about a year to get a patent approved. That cuts the time down to a few months.”
Thakur says he’s in talks with Austin fire chief Joël Boulanger on the use of AFD training resources to test the current version of FireBot. After refining the design once more, he hopes to send copies of the robot to the central Texas fire departments for further study. The ultimate goal is to create a product that can be used around the world.
But as he settles into his new life at UT, Thakur has had time to consider other interests. He wants to help solve problems related to climate change and plastic pollution. “I did a lot of, ‘Where do I go from here?’,” He said. “But I’ve also thought a lot, and I know I wouldn’t have made it here without the support of my family. So I would like to thank my mother, Leena palav. “
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated that Thakur won $ 1,500 in the 2021 College Inventors Competition. Thakur was awarded $ 2,000. The the Chronicle regret the error.