The Drones and Robots that Helped Save Notre Dame
In the era of social media, events such as the fire at Notre Dame cathedral are experienced by a global audience in real-time. From New York to Tokyo, millions of people were glued to their smartphones and computers, waiting for the latest update from media outlets and even individuals who were on the ground documenting the fearsome blaze. For twelve grueling hours, the fate of the 850 year old Parisian icon hung in the balance, and for a time it looked like the worst was inevitable.
The fires have been fully extinguished, the smoke has cleared, and in the light of day we now know that the heroic acts of the emergency response teams managed to avert complete disaster. While the damage to the cathedral is severe, the structure itself and much of the priceless art inside still remain. It’s far too early to know for sure how much the cleanup and repair of the cathedral will cost, but even the most optimistic of estimates are already in the hundreds of millions of dollars. With a structure this old, it’s likely that reconstruction will be slowed by the fact that construction techniques which have become antiquated in the intervening centuries will need to be revisited by conservators. But the people of France will not be deterred, and President Emmanuel Macron has already vowed his country will rebuild the cathedral within five years.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the men and women who risked their lives to save one of France’s most beloved monuments. They deserve all the praise from a grateful nation, and indeed, world. But fighting side by side with them were cutting-edge pieces of technology, some of which were pushed into service at a moments notice. These machines helped guide the firefighters in their battle with the inferno, and stood in when the risk to human life was too great. At the end of the day, it was man and not machine that triumphed over nature’s fury; but without the help of modern technology the toll could have been far higher.
Eyes in the Sky
As reported by the French media, emergency response teams utilized at least two UAVs to perform reconnaissance over the burning cathedral. With imagery provided by these platforms, firefighters were able to see the intensity and movement of the fire in real-time. These UAVs were not only faster and cheaper than sending in helicopters, but their operators were able to get much closer to the fire as they were not as susceptible to the heat and smoke which would have kept manned aircraft at a respectable distance.
But as it turns out, the Paris Fire Brigade didn’t actually have UAVs of their own which could be used in this situation. They instead borrowed two commercially available models which were in service with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Culture. Both of these quadcopters, a Mavic Pro and Matrice M210, are products of the Chinese company DJI. A manufacture that’s nearly …read more