The LAFD just hired America's first firefighting robot

On Tuesday, the 3,500-pound RS3 helped to put out a fire in downtown LA.

·2 min read

Robots are about to become a lot more commonplace in our daily lives. If that much wasn't clear when Boston Dynamics' Spot rebot took an "evening stroll" last month, the Los Angeles Fire Department makes an even better case. This week, it became the first fire department in the US to deploy a "robotic firefighting vehicle."

The LAFD's Thermite RS3 is a 3,500-pound robot that is about the size of Smart car. It's small enough that it can fit through a double set of doors, but, in true Robocop fashion, it can also plow or blast its way through a wall. It features a cannon that can discharge 2,500 gallons of water or foam per minute and align itself vertically to function as a sprinkler. It's operated remotely and can go for 20 hours without refueling. Those imposing treads you see on its side allow it to ascend 70-degree slopes.

As you might have guessed, the LAFD is pretty excited about its new tool. "It may make us rethink some of the ways we tackle fires when it's available," Ralph Terrazas, the chief of the LAFD, told The Los Angeles Times.

The RS3 has already seen action on the field. On Tuesday, the fire department diverted the robot from a demonstration near Dodger Stadium to fight a fire that engulfed two Fashion District buildings in the city's downtown core. It worked with more than 130 human firefighters to put out the blaze, helping to clear debris inside the building where the fire broke out.

If the RS3 looks more like a tank than any equipment your local fire department owns, it's because it adapts a design the US army used to disarm improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's made by the same company that's behind the Ripaw super tank. At $272,000 per unit, the RS3 isn't exactly affordable, and the LAFD wants to put it through its paces before it decides whether to buy more.