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Meet Thermite: The firefighting robot of the future

A machine originally designed for the Army is being repackaged as a tough-as-nails, risk-taking firefighter

The video: Firefighting is dangerous work, so why not send in the machines? Enter Thermite, an ultra-durable, remote-control mini-tank conceived for the U.S. Army, but finding new work as a firefighting robot that can go where humans can't. Defense contractor Howe and Howe Technologies originally designed Thermite, which weighs in at 1,300 pounds, to neutralize Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in combat zones, equipping it with a hose that pumps out 500 gallons of water per minute with the aid of a mounted camera. (Watch a demonstration below.) The key to Thermite's firefighting prowess is an innovative new cooling system that ingeniously prevents its sensitive electronics from overheating: As Thermite pumps water at a fire, "it first passes some of it through its own internal veins as liquid coolant," says Mark Wilson at Fast Co. Design. "It can even transform its roll cage into a giant sprinkler system, using cooling fans to suck in its own shower of mist if heat reaches critical levels."

The reaction: Thermite's pump rate "compares favorably" to the 1,500 gallons per minute of a standard fire engine, says Nathaniel Wattenmaker at Dvice, a bargain when you consider that, at $98,500, this trooper costs "an eighth of what an engine does." Better still, it's uniquely suited to enter areas of "extreme hazard," says David Szondy at Gizmag. Since it can be operated from up to a quarter of a mile away, it's perfect for fires in refineries, chemical plants, or nuclear facilities. While Thermite is "no substitute for human firefighters," it "does provide an alternative to sending people into extremely dangerous situations," and might just be the future of firefighting. Take a look:

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