DARPA’s New High-Tech Fire Extinguisher

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 23 2012 1:56 PM

DARPA’s New High-Tech Fire Extinguisher   

This photo taken on Nov. 21, 2010, shows a firefighter carrying a fire extinguisher.

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

Unhappy with the current state of fire extinguishers, DARPA, the military research agency, is trying something new: a wand-like device that can eliminate flames without the messy, foamy residue and other drawbacks. Watch it in action:

The “Instant Fire Suppression” project is intended to create new ways to combat flames in enclosed combat situations and vehicles like Humvees.  This will require a new approach to fire management. DARPA’s website explains:

Fire suppression technologies have focused largely on disrupting the chemical reactions involved in combustion.  From a physics point of view, however, flames are cold plasmas comprising mobile electrons and slower positive ions.  By using physics techniques rather than combustion chemistry, it may be possible to manipulate and extinguish flames.

The problem, as Geekosystem points out, is scalability: The wand may technically work, under certain circumstances, but it certainly isn’t ready for prime time on the battlefield or in the home.

Read more on Gizmodo and Geekosystem.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 


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