This freshman invented a firefighter robot
08 October 2021
Every once in a while an already accomplished young person comes along and makes you ask yourself out loud “what am I doing with my life?” Siddharth Thakur is one of these young people.
Even in the sea of ââbrilliant future engineers at Cockrell School, the 17-year-old stands out. Originally from Wisconsin, Thakur has just arrived on campus for his first year majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and he brings an impressive resume in entrepreneurship. As a high school student in the Houston area, he began to invent a robot capable of entering burning buildings to search for human lives via a remote control. He took action after learning about the lack of technological tools available to firefighters to keep them safe while saving people.
This incredible innovation known as FireBot naturally created a lot of buzz, and it helped Thakur to be among the six undergraduate finalists in the prestigious College Inventors Competition. Thakur presented FireBot virtually to a panel of judges including members of the Inventors Hall of Fame and officials from the US Patent and Trademark Office and ultimately won the Arrow Electronics People’s Choice Award.
FireBot can climb obstacles and is equipped with live video, thermal imaging and sensor capabilities. Firefighters can use a two-way speakerphone to exit conscious victims from a burning building or activate a siren and GPS map to help them find and quickly rescue unconscious victims.
We spoke with Thakur about FireBot, what it’s like to be on campus and the spark that ignited the passion for entrepreneurship.
First of all, welcome to UT! How does it feel to be on campus after spending a good chunk of the past two years learning online?
After spending much of the past two years online, living on campus has been a drastic and uplifting change. Connecting with new and old friends, exploring campus, meeting my teachers, joining clubs, and working at Texas Inventionworks are some of my favorite things to do since arriving on campus.
I am grateful for the commitment of the university, students and faculty to the health guidelines as facilities and resources are reopened. This has allowed me to collaborate effectively and securely with my peers and advisors. I am delighted to be starting my undergraduate journey at such a crucial and explosive time at UT. I can’t wait to be on campus to live, research, and collaborate with others in person!
Let’s talk about FireBot. You invented this temperature resistant robot that can be controlled remotely inside burning buildings and looking for human lives. Where did you get the idea for this?
About four years ago, I heard about the death of a local firefighter on the news. At the time, I was working on a science project in high school at the Houston Community College Fab Lab, and after a discussion with Mr. Fields, my advisor and the lab manager, I wanted to contact my local fire department. .
From a discussion with my fire chief, I learned of the vast dangers that firefighters constantly face when searching for human lives in building fires. I was appalled when they described their lack of technology and motivated to use my technical skills to develop a robotic solution to increase the chances of our local firefighters returning home safely.
As I interviewed other fire departments across the country, I learned that this problem was not just a local problem – it was systemic. Firefighters across the country are required to search for victims in structural fires, regularly exposing them to life-threatening situations, resulting in countless deaths each year and ongoing health problems.
Is there a prototype of FireBot? How has that changed since you first conceived the idea?
FireBot went through three prototypes. Since the idea was conceived, FireBot has undergone significant changes following feedback and new ideas from firefighters and search and rescue experts. From a four-wheeled car to a crawler climbing chariot; from a simple control loop to a semi-autonomous robot dashboard; the robot itself has radically changed its appearance and functionality, while the central goal of saving the lives of firefighters and victims has remained.
Is this your first major invention? What other projects have you worked on?
Yes, FireBot is my first major invention. Although I have designed and collaborated on several other engineering projects in research labs and high school science clubs, most of the projects either met a theoretical challenge or were not commercially feasible.
Another important project I worked on took place during my first year of high school, when I was fortunate enough to be chosen to be part of Dr Acevedo’s research team at the Ecological and Environmental Laboratory of the ‘University of North Texas. Our team wanted to tackle water wastage and develop a network of wireless agricultural sensors to provide real-time monitoring of farmers’ fields to promote efficient irrigation practices. In this fast-paced environment, I enthusiastically learned new concepts and knowledge about real-world engineering, much of which allowed me to continue my other endeavors, including FireBot.
What was the spark that made you want to be an inventor / entrepreneur?
My obsession with innovation started a long time ago when I was given bags of loose LEGO parts instead of expensive sets. I started making cars from the few bricks and pulleys I had, familiarizing myself with the gears and torque. Over time, I’ve gone from simple transmissions to complex LEGO machines, building remote-controlled forklifts and robotic gumball machines. Despite its simplicity, I have come back again and again to prototype and even integrate LEGO into my projects. The development of LEGO machine constructions reinforced my passion for hands-on construction and sparked my desire to invent and develop solutions to the problems of my local and global community.
What do you hope to gain from the competition? Do you plan to continue with FireBot and bring it to market someday?
I hope, through FireBot and this competition, to bring the necessary attention to the often unknown and deeply rooted issues that our brave firefighters struggle around the world. I hope that thanks to this competition, my robot can be propelled from a laboratory prototype into the hands of firefighters, which will have an impact on their safety and well-being on a daily basis. It would confirm my childhood dream of using my engineering background to have an impact on the world around me.
I hope to continue to develop FireBot as far as possible. I have been working on this project for several years now and I am passionate about bringing this solution to market where it will be available to all fire departments in order to use and increase the chances of survival of their firefighters and their victims.
I know you’re just getting started here, but what are your aspirations for your future career at this point?
As I explore the abundance of opportunities around UT Austin, I am especially excited about the areas of entrepreneurship, aerospace and robotics. Thanks to the amazing ecosystem of startups in the Austin community, I aspire to develop my previous projects and collaborate on new ones by entering the field of entrepreneurship. While I’m not sure where I will be in four years time, I strive to benefit the world by combining my hands-on technical experience and humanitarian spirit.