Los Angeles City Fire Department adds robotic RS3 vehicle to its fleet


Firefighters in Los Angeles recently received an RS3, but it’s not the Audi-badged kind that offers a sonorous five-cylinder engine and Quattro all-wheel drive. It’s a robotic, remote-controlled vehicle that looks like a miniature tank. It was developed to venture into dangerous situations, and it’s the first of its kind in the United States.

Designed by Howe and Howe Technologies, the Thermite RS3 is billed as the world’s first robot built specifically for fighting fires. It rides on industrial-grade rubber tracks, boasts a 547-yard stand-off range, and its low center of gravity provides excellent stability as it dispenses up to 2,500 gallons of water per minute. It’s also equipped with an 8,000-pound winch, so even a fully-loaded Chevrolet Suburban can’t stand in its way for very long.

Power for the Thermite RS3 comes from a water-cooled, 1.6-liter three-cylinder industrial diesel engine built by Yanmar. It develops 36.8 horsepower, offers 20 hours of run time, and it has a top speed of about 8 mph. While you might expect it’s powered by some advanced type of autonomous technology, it’s not going anywhere without input from a human operator. The robot is remote-controlled, and integrated high-definition cameras give the person in charge a clear view of its surroundings to maneuver it around obstacles.

Los Angeles will send the RS3 to large commercial fires, wood-framed structures under construction, fuel tank fires, and auto storage fires, among other incidents. The robot will also be used to rescue large animals. Because its top speed is so low, it needs to be towed to the fire with a purpose-designed trailer and a stout pickup.

Robots are expensive, and the Thermite RS3 is no exception. It reportedly costs $278,000, so it’s more expensive than the Porsche 911 Speedster introduced in 2019. Los Angeles explained it was able to purchase the robot thanks to a generous donation, so don’t expect it to become a common sight across the United States.

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