(Wait, that doesn’t seem quite right…)
Late last year, the young Combat Robotics Team made a mistake and had a minor “unexpected thermal event” (FIRE). Until now, we had not posted anything about the event, because we are not particularly proud of what happened. However, we learned a lot about responsible design practices and how to react in an emergency. I am writing these posts in the hopes that you can benefit from our experience without having to undergo your own robot-ravaging accident.
Part II of III : What We Learned
This unexpected thermal event taught us several important lessons. Obviously, we were doing some things wrong, and those caused the accident. However, the fire also revealed several things we were doing right without realizing it. By drawing on both of these, we have learned and grown, and do things differently now.
The things we did wrong are probably obvious, but they are worth restating. The condition of The Blender’s electrical system had been allowed to deteriorate to a dangerous level. A horde of zip ties and quite a bit of electrical tape held the wires in place, but goodness only knows the last time a proper inspection had been performed. If we had found the damaged wire earlier, the fire may have been prevented. Additionally, we should not have been operating The Blender in such tight spaces with the shell attached – an active shell obscures the manual kill switch. As we have now learned, the shell has the potential to take on a life of its own. If the drive motors had also activated, a costly situation could have become a deadly one. This would have been compounded by our final error: standing far too close to The Burning Blender. Ten feet, or even 20 feet, afford only seconds to react if control of the drive motors is lost. If the shell is also active, severe injury can result. Most of these mistakes originated from too much faith in The Blender performing as instructed.
While our mistakes were significant, we also handled ourselves quite well once the fire began. First, we remained calm. There was no screaming and running in circles. We remained calm, and assessed the situation. Due to UTDesign’s online training courses, Haley knew where the fire extinguisher was and retrieved it. Thanks to the same courses, she knew how to use the fire extinguisher to maximum effect. Meanwhile attempted to minimize the danger to ourselves by backing away and elevating ourselves (protecting our legs from The Blender’s shell). Once we had contained the incident, we called the building manager, who contacted the appropriate emergency services. By staying calm and taking appropriate actions, a bad situation was prevented from becoming much, much worse.
Since the incident, we have learned from both what we did right and what we did wrong and adjusted our practices to prevent such an event in the future. For example, we use a multimeter to check the integrity of the electrical systems before every time powering up The Blender. During power-up, The Blender is carefully restrained to prevent unintentional movement. During demonstrations and testing, we never drive The Blender with the shell on. This prevents the dangerous situation that exaggerated the danger of the fire – a spinning shell prevents access to the mechanical killswitch.
More than anything, we have learned to respect and fear the power of The Blender as an electromechanical system. When watching videos of the arena or performing maintenance, it is easy to forget the danger The Blender poses to us and other people. However, the fire taught us otherwise, and we have adjusted accordingly.
I hope you have found this post informative. In the next post, I will relay some information that you should know to help prevent such disasters happening to you. If that fails, I hope the information helps minimize damage from such unfortunate events.