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Cal Poly students build firefighting robot

Ember
Cal Poly
Cal Poly engineering students take measurements for the construction of their fire extinguishing robot.

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - A team of Cal Poly engineering students created a robot that can detect and extinguish burning embers with the hope that it will help save homes and lives in the event of another fire.

Cal Poly faculty members Richard Emberley and John Ridgely conceived the Project EMBER (Economical, Mechatronic, Burn-Extinguishing Robot) in response to the Camp Fire - the massive blaze in Butte County that resulted in 85 deaths and the destruction of much of Paradise, CA last year.

Cal Poly said the project specifically considered the impact of wildfire embers.

"The dangers of a single ember or firebrand are incredible, as evidenced by the spark from a downed power line that caused the Camp Fire,” said Ryan Kissinger, a mechanical engineering senior. “With the right wind conditions, small embers can launch far beyond the heart of the wildfire, starting spot fires in neighboring areas.”

Cal Poly said the EMBER project is one of over 20 senior projects that will be on display during the Mechanical Engineering Department’s fall Project Expo on Friday.

Cal Poly said the robot prototype is a cylinder-shaped device that pivots with an encoder-controlled motor and uses a Lepton thermal camera to detect embers. Once it detects heat, the robot aims a spray nozzle and can shoot water up to 25 feet away.

The device checks for the heat signature of an ember to completely disappear before continuing its patrol.

The expo will also be including multiple projects focused on making life better for others, including a jogger designed for a 17-year-old disabled girl so she can go on runs with her father; an electronically cooled pillow for those who suffer from insomnia; and a pedaling device that could generate power for developing nations.

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Jessica Brest

Jessica Brest is a digital journalist and assignment editor at KEYT | KCOY | KKFX.