Stanley Wilson died a decade ago, battling a six-alarm fire at a Dallas, Texas, condominium complex. Two additional firefighters were taken to a hospital and two residents were treated on site for smoke inhalation, but all survived. A pair of reports were made public the following year, citing issues with training and risk assessment, among others.
Paradigm Robotics founder and CEO Siddarth Thakur mentions Wilson when describing his startup’s origin. The death led him down a rabbit hole of inquiry into firefighting tactics.
“Firefighters were struggling with this issue where they were required to search for human life inside structural fires, because of federal mandates,” says Thakur. “This places them in life-threatening situations on a day-to-day basis. They’re essentially required — even before fighting the flames — to go inside these burning buildings to look for victims. That means that they can get trapped, stuck in debris, lost and run out of oxygen. The sight is very, very poor. It’s very, very high temperatures.”
It’s a pretty straightforward application for robotics, as these things go. With the proper technology, a system can scope out the scene before sending in a human — assessing the impacted area for trapped people and potential hazards. Paradigm is far from the first company to tackle the space, but it’s focused on delivering a more affordable option than products like the Thermite RS3, which ran the Los Angeles City Fire Department $278,000.
That’s not to say that FireBot is going to be cheap. The system is expected to run $90,000 when it goes on sale in Q3 of next year. The system can be purchased outright by well-funded departments or leased through a RaaS model. Thakur says Paradigm is aiming for a roughly 10-year lifespan for the robots.
The system is remotely controlled, owing to the wildly unstructured complexity inside a burning building. Paradigm describes FireBot as “the world’s first, high-temperature resistant, wirelessly controlled, obstacle-climbing, unmanned robot that can be deployed into burning buildings to efficiently search for and locate human life and identify any hazardous situation, without necessitating firefighters to physically enter structural fires and risk their lives.”
Thakur adds, “The secret sauce is derived from two main things: a lot of expertise in material selection – so special alloys, special installation materials, special cooling technologies. And then there’s design, understanding how heat affects materials. The whole platform has to be not just high temperature resistant, but flame resistant, as well.”
Paradigm’s funding is a combination of bootstrapping and pre-seed.
“At the moment, we are working with some investors, trying to raise a round. Partly because robotics is very tough and very capital intensive,” says Thaku. “So we’re hitting a point where we have enough funding to do some limited things, but we want do much more. We want to do continuous R&D, we want to bring on more team members, we want to advance the technology and we want to build more robots to give to firefighters for feedback.”