Containing the Notre-Dame Cathedral conflagration in Paris was a heroic effort by dozens of people. While invaluable parts of the 856-year-old cathedral were destroyed yesterday, it was thankfully not a complete loss, and something of a miracle nobody died. Part of the credit goes to Colossus—an 1,100-pound remote-controlled firefighting robot employed by the Paris Firefighter Brigade.
Firefighting in an ancient church presented rescuers with some unique challenges, some of which U.S. public safety official Gregg Favre explained on Twitter rather concisely.
But there are a few things firefighters always have to contend with in a conflagration of the magnitude we saw in Paris: carrying heavy hoses and tools over significant distances, and carrying them in and around heavy pieces of structure that may be precariously positioned.
When Notre-Dame’s spire was threatening to collapse, but there were still flames to battle, Colossus was sent in.
Colossus is built to endure brutal conditions, operate a fire hose, carry heavy tools into a hostile environment or carry wounded people out. It can be operated from almost 1,000 feet away, and its modular design allows it to be configured for different jobs.
It’s about 5.25 feet long, 2.5 feet wide and a little less than 2.5 feet tall. It’s waterproof, fire-resistant, and propelled by two electric motors powered by six lithium-ion batteries. Electromagnetic brakes bring it back to a stop.
The person driving it has a few different options for controls, but they pretty much all look like different forms of video game controllers.
Colossus’ spec sheet says the robot can only move at a modest 2.2 mph, but it can climb over just about anything and carry more than 1,200 pounds of payload.
The machine was made by French technology company Shark Robotics, which develops and manufactures “unmanned ground vehicles,” you might also call driving drones or remote-controlled robots. It was demonstrated for the media in 2017, and you can see it in action in this clip from France 3 or this one from TF1.
Images of Colossus going to work at Notre-Dame have popped up on social media:
And Shark Robotic’s sizzle reel gives you a better look at Colossus itself:
The New York Times reported that “two police officers and one firefighter were injured in the five-hour battle to gain control over the blaze, but no one was killed,” on Tuesday as investigations into the cause of the Notre-Dame fire began.
That seems incredible to me, and I’m sure France is extremely proud of the team of responders who took care of Paris over the course of this awful event. Some 400 firefighters took part in battling the blaze, along with countless other emergency workers and municipal officials.
But from a purely technological standpoint, it’s impressive to see robots doing heavy lifting in such a perilous situation.