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Learners invent life-saving fire rescue robot

Written by Dale Hes

Two teens have fired up the hope that fewer firefighters will lose their lives when battling burning buildings.

Firefighters are everyday heroes who often risk their lives while carrying out their duties. In September, three firefighters tragically died while battling a blaze at the Bank of Lisbon building in the Johannesburg City Centre.

The tragedy inspired two bright young learners from Mpumalanga to invent a rescue robot that has the potential to make the work of firefighters that much safer.

Grade 9 learner Trevor Simelane and Grade 10 learner Joseph Mdluli are from the Mandlesive Secondary School in the township of Kanyamazane, near Mbombela in Mpumalanga.

The pair of inventors designed the robot for their entry into the 2018 Hip2b2 3M Innovation Challenge. Supported by the Department of Basic Education, the challenge seeks to encourage high school pupils to explore the fields of maths and science.Trevor Simelane and Joseph Mdluli with their award-winning fire rescue robot.

Simelane and Mdluli’s invention impressed the judges so much that the boys were crowned winners of the 2018 challenge.

Built from recycled materials, the robot has the ability to get inside dangerous burning buildings, navigate obstacles and search for trapped people.

“The advantages of our fire rescue robot extend to absorbing smoke with a smoke pump and providing oxygen to people who have just been rescued from the fire,” said Simelane.

Two of the firefighters from the Bank of Lisbon fire died from smoke inhalation. The third was killed when he fell from a ledge while trying to escape the dense smoke. Mdluli said the robot has been designed to prevent such incidents.

“One of the other advantages of a robot is that it can safely go to places that are risky for humans; there are no risks of suffocating, suffering lung and respiratory damage or burns and injuries from a collapsing building. It is built to absorb pressure and deliver results within a short period,” Mdluli explained.

The Hip2b2 Challenge saw hundreds of learners from around the country entering. Simelane and Mdluli faced strong competition from the two other final teams. Sisters Nomvula and Elizabeth Ledwaba developed a solar energy bookcase which can light up a desk for learners to study without electricity, while Hudson Mashaninga and Thokozani Mlauzi created a backpack that stores litter.