An intelligent system developed by EU-funded researchers can provide buses and coaches with firefighting capabilities. This integrated solution is designed to detect, locate and suppress fires quickly. It can address some of them before they even start.
The partners in the Vulcan project have managed to harness powerful technology that detects even the faintest whiff of smoke, says project manager Dirk Röthig of the Estonian Innovation Institute.
Conventional systems for vehicles, he explains, tend to involve heat detectors, which indicate temperature rises attributable to flames. In addition to these sensors, the Vulcan system includes aspirating smoke detectors. This type of device had so far been reserved for use in cool, dust-free spaces such as cleanrooms, rather than the much more challenging environment of an engine compartment.
Only a quarter or so of the EU’s buses and coaches have fire protection systems, say project sources. The systems that do exist are not designed to monitor for technical faults that could lead to a fire or to offer a graduated response if they detect the beginnings of a blaze, they add.
Vulcan set out to take fire safety on buses and coaches a step ahead. The team has developed a solution that combines comprehensive monitoring, detection and suppression capabilities.
This innovative system is designed to spot potentially hazardous faults and to deal with any fires that do break out, Röthig notes. The response is geared to the location and extent of the problem, and it also depends on the absence or presence of a driver.
By default, the system produces an alert, analyses the problem and highlights the steps to be taken. “However, if the bus is parked and empty, for example, it can actuate by itself,” Röthig explains.
As a next step, Röthig adds, the partners aim to integrate their system more closely with the “brain” of the vehicle – the so-called controller area network (CAN bus). This network underpins the interaction of the vehicle’s various electronic subsystems, such as air conditioning, power doors, etc. “It has been standard on new buses for about 15 years, but there has not been much integration so far with external components,” he says.
The CAN bus can thus provide additional data to support the firefighting system’s decision-making processes. This input enables the system to factor in additional aspects, such as whether the doors are open or closed, or whether the engine is running.
In return, the system informs the driver and the CAN bus of the measures required to pre-empt, contain or extinguish the fire – such as cutting the fuel line, or activating the suppression system. In theory, Röthig notes, it could even be set up to take control of the CAN bus to initiate these tasks. However, he adds, this level of integration would require the endorsement of the vehicle manufacturers.
Vulcan’s combination of detection, decision-making and firefighting capabilities is innovative in itself, but the project has also broken new ground with regard to the components and programmes on which these subsystems reply.
These advances notably include the project’s innovative combination of heat and smoke detectors. Further attention focused on the hardware of the suppression system. Working from an existing model, the partners upgraded the design of the tank that contains the suppression agent in order to reduce the production cost and optimise the use of space. They also improved the piping system and the nozzles.
In parallel, the project built up the system’s intelligence. Sensors, detectors and information received from the CAN bus enable the underlying software to predict, detect and analyse problems and to suggest or take the required steps.
The project ended in August 2015. The advances it delivered, says Röthig, will be introduced gradually into the product range of lead partner DAFO, a Swedish SME specialising in fire suppression systems.
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